“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2
Last Christmas, my next-door neighbor generously provided white Christmas lights for all of the trees in the front yard of every house that lined the main street of our housing division. The result was both breathtakingly beautiful and unexpectedly transformative for our small community. Each night it was as if our entire street was filled with wonder and joy, as the lights glowed brilliantly against the dark winter sky. Commuters drove leisurely down the street on their way home from work, instead of racing back to their garages. People from all around the neighborhood started to go on evening walks, and children were now able to laugh and play outside with each other long after the sun set each day.
Light changes everything. It brings clarity, creates warmth, and provides power. Our need for light is often felt most in the middle of our literal or metaphysical darkest night, which is right where this verse begins. Isaiah is speaking to the people of God, who in their time of need chose to look to other nations for salvation rather than to Yahweh. The outcome of their choice was total devastation. The temple is destroyed, their nation is disbanded, and they are exiled to foreign countries.
The people walking in darkness in this passage are battle weary, hungry for peace, struggling against the gloom of despair, and desperately in need of salvation. The remnant who remain faithful to Yahweh in the midst of this deep spiritual and emotional darkness do so purely out of faith in the character of Yahweh who covenanted to be God with them, even when they could not see Him.
The book of Hebrews declares, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (11:1, KJV). You and I are blessed to stand on this side of history, knowing that Christ has come to us. We are the ones that Isaiah prophesied about who have seen his great light and watched the dawning of redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet, we too, can identify with the remnant walking in darkness, holding fast to the promise that one day we will be united with the Lord for eternity. Until then, we wait.
The season of Advent is all about waiting, and waiting is rarely easy. We wait in seasons of doubt by staying close to the One who helps us in our unbelief. We wait in times of silence, confident that God’s Word is still living, active, and trustworthy for our lives today. We wait with tears through suffering, trusting that though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning. Although deep darkness may surround us this season, or in seasons to come, we can rejoice because we know that the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ has come to us! We know that his light still shines in our darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it. We have a reason for great joy, regardless of our circumstances.
As an ancient prayer of the church declares, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” He is present now to us through the Holy Spirit. May his light shine on you and fill you with a light that spreads his joy across the world today.
Michelle Tepper is a speaker for RZIM and Chaplain at the Zacharias Institute.