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In Isaiah 7 and 8, the prophet attempts to warn King Ahaz that because of his continual disobedience darkness is going to befall Israel at the hands of the Assyrian army who will conquer Israel and take survivors into captivity.
At our Monday evening Disciple Bible Study class, we were studying Isaiah and I invited the class to get in touch with the feelings of the Israelites by imagining what it would be like if China and Russia joined forces to conquer America and took the survivors back to their countries as slaves. We can’t even begin to imagine how dark that would be.
But then, the gloom of darkness that prevailed over Israel in chapter 8, is suddenly and gloriously lifted as we turn the page to chapter 9 and read,
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.Isaiah 9:1-2, 6
The government will rest on His shoulders.
And He will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah’s prophecy of a light that will shine in the darkness 700 years before the birth of Christ is fulfilled as we read the gospel written by one of Jesus’ disciples named, John.
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.John 1:1-14
God Rest Ye
The familiar Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is one of the oldest that exists, going back to at least the 16th century, if not earlier. 500 years of changing language use has rendered its title a little nebulous. Many people today miss the meaning of the first line because they misplace the comma, thinking the title should say God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. But this is not a song about ‘merry gentlemen,’ hanging out at The Village Inn.
It helps to know the word ‘rest,’ as in ‘God rest,’ meant to ‘keep’ or ‘make.’ 1
And that the word ‘merry’ originally meant strong or valiant, as in Robin Hood and his band of merry; that is strong, or valiant men. 2
So the first line really means, “God make you strong and valiant, gentlemen.”
That explains the second line, “Let nothing you dismay.” And what is it that makes us strong and valiant in the face of the struggles of life?
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.”
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy.”
In this old Christmas Carol, the author wishes to convey Christmas encouragement even in times of dismay. My guess is he or she had faith in the promises of both Isaiah and John: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall never extinguish it” (John 1:5).
We need to hang our hats on those two verses because all people everywhere, even Christian people, have experienced some darkness associated with Christmas.
How could we not? The world in which we live is a dark place.
“How so?” you ask. The Bible speaks of darkness as both ‘evil’ and ‘ignorance.’
Isaiah, indeed all the prophets of Israel, paint a picture of untold suffering as a result of evil human sinfulness. And think about what was happening when Jesus was born 770 years later. Violence, injustice, abuse of power, homelessness, refugees, families ripped apart, and bottomless grief. Sound familiar?
The other way Isaiah speaks of a darkened world has to do with human willful, stubborn ignorance as it concerns how to deal with that evil. Isaiah tells us that in his day, people were turning to mediums and magicians instead of God for solutions to the problem of suffering. Today, rather than God, humans prefer to trust in the government, the stock market, their bank account, or technology to lead us to the light of utopia.
How’s that working out for us? If history shows us anything, it is that humanity cannot save itself. Isaiah 8 teaches that when human beings rely solely on human resources to bring light to the darkness of the world, it often gets darker!
This is precisely why the world needs the message of Christmas. Isaiah’s message of Christmas is “On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned” (9:2). By the way, did you notice he didn’t indicate the light originated from the world? No, the light dawned; it was an ‘outside the world’ source.
As John writes, “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9).
By and large, the world is a dark place and is in desperate need of the light of Christ to show us the way to live so that we might experience glad tidings of comfort and joy and; therefore, have more peace in our world as well as in our hearts.
Perhaps it helps to know that darkness cast its shadow over those who experienced the very first Christmas.
Luke tells us, “There was no place for them in the inn” (2:7). How absurd; the parents of God are shown no personal favor in the world. They will give birth in a way that would frighten most of us; no doctor, no hospital, no running water. There is nothing romantic and warm about a manger.
Luke also speaks of a spirit-filled man named Simeon who meets the proud parents, but warns Mary to expect “a sword to pierce her own soul” (2:35). Luke wants us to know that the good news of great joy the angels spoke of did not remove trying circumstances, even from God’s parents.
Matthew’s gospel informs us of Herod’s plot to take the child’s life, their escape to Egypt, and the death of children under the age of two. The Magi have to return to their country by another route under similar threats.
Every person in the Christmas story, whether it was Mary or Joseph, Simeon or Anna, the shepherds or the Magi, the oppressed under Herod or the oppressed under Rome, even Jesus Himself; all experienced what it meant to encounter the darkness of seemingly hopeless situations.
No matter what you are facing this Christmas, no matter how dark it seems to be, I want to say a gentle word of glad tidings of comfort, joy, and peace to all of you. You are not alone. Just as the comfort, joy, and peace of Joseph and Mary and their contemporaries found an anchor in deeper places; so can yours.
But to experience these Christmas blessings, we must possess the guts to go head-to-head with the darkness and pain. And that’s not always easy.
Just ask Clive Staples Lewis.
C. S. Lewis was born in England in 1898. He left his Christian upbringing at the age of 15 and became a devout atheist. Lewis was a brilliant scholar and writer and held faculty positions at Oxford and Cambridge at the same time. At the age of 33, as a result of his friendship with J. R. R Tolkien, he came, in his own words, kicking and screaming into the Christian faith. He turned to writing Christian books; both fiction and non-fiction. His works of Christian fiction include The Chronicles of Narnia. And his best-known non-fiction work is Mere Christianity.
Lewis was a lifelong bachelor until he met and was suddenly and completely swept off his feet by Joy Davidman. They married in 1956 when C. S. was 58. They agreed to marry despite the fact that Joy had been told that she had bone cancer that would take her life.
His life completely changed for the better as he had never been in love before. Three years later, Joy was gone.
Lewis was devastated and his faith in God faltered for a time. He writes about it in A Grief Observed. Talk about darkness, Lewis felt that there was a “sort of invisible blanket between the world and me,” that had also enveloped his spiritual life.
Where is God? When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption. If you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be, or so it feels, welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that silence, you might as well turn away. There is no light in the window. 3
A little over half-way through his journal, he writes, “I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.” 4 His relationship with God began to reopen and he accepted that there are mysteries in this life that will be solved only in heaven. And he realized more fully that we need to love God, not our ideas of God.
Our greatest hope for comfort, joy, and peace this Christmas isn’t for the absence of darkness. Our greatest hope for comfort, joy, and peace is the presence of the light of Christ in the midst of the darkness.
For as long as we live in this world, there will be darkness.
Every once in a while we will see someone driving at night without headlights. And what do we do? We flash our lights to get their attention. Because we know that if you drive without headlights in the dark, it’s only a matter of time before things become even darker.
Similarly, those who attempt to negotiate life without the light that God provides through His Son, Jesus, often flounder in the dark.
The light from our headlights reveals the truth about what lies ahead. The light from Christ does the same. It reveals the truth about life and death and how to live it in such a way that we can negotiate life both safely and securely.
But please understand that the light of the Christ of Christmas cannot be seen unless and until we first admit, that like the world, we can’t save ourselves.
How can this light dawn upon us? Isaiah gives us the answer 4 verses later: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given” (9:6).
Jesus is the light, the divine light, of the world because He brings new life to replace our spiritual deadness, because He shows us the truth that heals our spiritual blindness. How can we incorporate His light into our lives? Notice the text just doesn’t say, “For unto us a child is born,” it goes on to say, “unto us a Son is given.” He’s a gift, and like any gift, it must be received.
“He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:10-12).
For those who have eyes to see the light shines the brightest when things seem the darkest.
On February 20, 2020, Deborah Haumesser stood before us and shared how the light of Christ was seeing her through the darkness.
I was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer. It is supposed to be the best cancer to have. It’s the slowest growing cancer. Well, I broke all of the rules. And since I was diagnosed, we have been through everything. We’ve been through chemo, we’ve been through treatments, and we have been up and down through this and that.
But you know what, God has always been there. Not one day did I ever question why me, why do I have cancer. God has been my rock, He has been my peace. He’s been my understanding. It all comes from Him in everything.
If you don’t have Christ in your life, if you don’t know who He is, get Him.
God wants to know where your heart is, He wants to know if you believe in Him, if you care about Him. He’s got me through so many ups and downs. My family has sacrificed. My husband has been the most wonderful care-taker I could possibly have. All this comes from God. God has provided everything I have ever needed.
There are a lot of you who are very, very precious to me and I just wanted you to know a little bit of what I deal with and that I can’t live without Him and I don’t want to live without Him. If you don’t know who He is, if you don’t care who He is, you must not want to be happy, because the peace you are going to find with Him is very satisfying.
Deborah Haumesser would have us know that our greatest hope this Christmas isn’t for the absence of darkness. Our greatest hope for comfort, joy, and peace is the presence of the light of Christ in the midst of the darkness.
None of us knows what our futures hold, but as I have said many times, I hope and pray that we know who holds our futures.
So when the darkness falls, hang in there, don’t give up on God, plod through worship, pray, and encounter God in Christ through the scriptures.
And so ladies and gentlemen, as we draw closer to Christmas, I pray that God will make you strong and valiant.
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy.”
3 C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, [New York: Harper One, © 1961], Page 6.
4 Ibid, Page 46