One of my favorite things this time of year is seeing dark spaces lit up with strings of lights. I enjoy colorful displays, but it's the trees wrapped in white light that stir my heart. In a time of year that is increasingly dark - dark when I rise, and dark long before I go to bed- these lights are a welcome relief. I feel safer, calmer, and more peaceful in their presence.
The Bible talks about Christ coming into the world as light shining in the darkness. I wonder if this is why so many of our Christmas traditions involve light? We wrap our houses, trim our trees, and brighten our town squares with strings of light. We dim the lights in our worship halls and sanctuaries and then hold high candles as we sing Silent Night and look out over the flickering flames.
700 years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus' coming:
"But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." (Isaiah 9:1-7)
At the start of his ministry, Jesus goes to the very places spoken by Isaiah, fulfilling the words of the prophet:
"Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
Jesus, the light of the world, had arrived, but the people did not recognize him. They knew they needed rescue, but they longed for the temporal kind. Occupied by a foreign government and longing for freedom from lives full of toil and hardship, they wanted a king to deliver them from their troubles and didn't recognize the greater rescue that Jesus offered. When he began his ministry and failed to meet their expectations of liberating them from their earthly troubles, they rejected him.
We who live in relative ease and power aren't all that different from them. We too can miss the greater rescue Jesus offers. We long for lives that are free of trouble and we are willing to give Jesus a chance if he guarantees us ease and prosperity. But when the dazzle of Christmas morning fades into our typical days of drudgery, difficult relationships, and desires that contrast Jesus' words, we reject him - relegating him to our nativity scenes and Christmas songs.
It is this cold-hearted, rebelliousness that is our true darkness, and this is why Jesus came. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 we read, "For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The darkness that threatens us most is the darkness inside of our hearts that can only be illuminated if God helps us to see Jesus for who he truly is. He came to this earth to liberate us from the darkness of sin. He came to bring us back to the heart of God.
Yet Advent points forward to the time when he will come again - and this time to make all things write in the world too. When Jesus returns in all his glory, Isaiah 9:1-7 will be fully fulfilled. Peace will reign on this earth forevermore and all who recognized the light of Christ will enjoy his peace forever.