The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined….For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.
—Isaiah 9:2, 6, NKJV
CHRISTMAS. THE WINTER HOLIDAY SEASON. THE SEASON OF LIGHTS.
Call it what you may, but the Christmas of celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth is also celebrated in tandem as a cultural holiday across the world. The holiday is an amalgamation of varying religious and secular observances, customs, and traditions, with gifts and gatherings, food and fun, and lights, trees, and decorations to cheer the soul through our senses. And songs, lots of songs, that fill the airwaves nonstop for weeks, starting the day after Thanksgiving.
Whether cruising around at night to check out Christmas lights, decorating cookies, or enjoying a silent night moment seated by a fire looking at the sparkling lights of the Christmas tree and listening to favorite songs, the holiday season can be rich and full. Yet as we know and have experienced in varying measures, the most wonderful time of the year can also be full of painful memories or other circumstances of life such as loss, illness, broken relationships, or abuse.
The secular-hyped Christmas tries to sweep away those things. Yet, it’s because of those difficult and dark times that there’s even a Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ to begin with—humanity’s desperate need for God to rescue each of us from our self-inflicted, sin-darkened estate and its deadly effects upon us and others.
Isaiah’s prophesy in the Scripture above was for the people of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, living in darkness and the shadow of death (vs. 2) because their disobedience to God (Isaiah 8) would be bringing judgment. Yet, a few verses later Isaiah declares God’s promise of rescue, in “a Child is born…a Son given” who would one day set up and rule an eternal kingdom of peace, justice, and righteousness (v. 6-7).
As Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible commentary points out, the Scripture of people living in darkness and the shadow of death also applies to “all the people of God before conversion… in a state of darkness… dead in Adam, dead in law, and dead in trespasses and sins.” God’s lament for the people of Zebulun and Naphtali at that time and for all of humanity up to today was answered in His promise to send His Son, born to die as the suffering Messiah, who was “pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities… [and] make many to be accounted righteous” (Isaiah 53:5, 11).
The songs filling the air during the Christmas season cover the spectrum of human experience, words and structure capturing the expression of our heart and soul. It’s in song, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke about the events leading up to and including the birth of Christ, that the joy and wonder of what God has done for those looking for Him is expressed. It’s Mary, chosen by God to bear His Son, rejoicing in “God my Savior” (1:47), and Zachariah proclaiming “the tender mercy of God” because of the coming Messiah (v. 78) that his own son “will go before…to prepare His ways” (v. 76).
And on one extraordinary night, God delivered on His promise. Backed by an angelic army singing “Glory to God in the highest,” an angel proclaimed first to terrified shepherds the greatest news ever, “For unto to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:10-11). Today, this is the anthem of hope to us—jars of clay living in a broken world as we celebrate Christmas and wait for Christ in His promised second advent. We sing the song of the redeemed in this interlude, looking for the King of kings who will deliver the promised end of darkness and death.
This Christmas, as we ponder God’s priceless gift of Jesus Christ to ransom us, regardless of life’s tears in or around us, what are the ways you will rejoice anew because of having welcomed Christ into your life? What are your praises? What are your prayers?
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!