A Light in the Darkness

Isaiah 9:1-2 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-- 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

In 1789 when the Bastille, the castle-like prison in Paris, was about to be destroyed, a long-term inmate was brought out. He had lived in his gloomy cell for many, many years. Sadly, instead of welcoming his liberty, the man begged to be taken back to his cell. Unaccustomed to the sunlight, he had only one desire – to die in the murky dungeon that had held him captive for so long. 

No, not everybody wants to be in the light. 

Sadly, we live in an age where many people wish to continue to live in their self-imposed darkness of sin and unbelief. On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court made its ruling in the Roe v. Wade case. 41 years later we live in the darkness where death is being called good, and life evil. Death is being called the answer, and life the problem. Death is being called light, and life the darkness. 

Darkness pervades our homes through anger and fighting. Darkness fills our nation’s schools with bullying and abuse of social media. Darkness saturates our culture where marriage and love are redefined from God’s definitions. Darkness encompasses everything we do, everywhere we go, everything we think, because of the sin that is in our hearts, on our minds, at our fingertips and on our tongues.

Since the darkness is not disappearing, our Savior, Jesus stepped into the darkness. “[God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14). Christ is a light in the darkness.

Isaiah prophecied: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

When Isaiah wrote this prophecy, these were dark days for the people of God. Tiglath-Pileser III, the ruler of the mighty Assyrian empire (745-727 B.C.) was preparing to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrian ruler would conquer a nation and then deport its people from their homeland. Then he would import other conquered peoples to fill other vacant lands. In this way, a nation would never arise again to overtake him. 

This was the kind of permanent darkness that was in store for the northern tribes of Israel. Because they were consulting mediums and spiritists (8:19) rather than seeking the Lord’s revelation, the Lord would send an instrument of destruction. And, unlike previous instances of oppression at the hands of neighboring nations, this time it would be permanent. As a result of their disobedience, the Jewish people would never exclusively inhabit the northern region of the Promised Land again. Most of the Jews were deported from the northern kingdom. Gentiles (non-Jews) from other conquered lands were relocated to the northern portions of Israel, where the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were located to the west and northwest of the Sea of Galilee. From that point forward it would always be referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (9:1). 

These foreigners would bring with them their foreign religions and false gods. Worship of these counterfeit gods was intermingled with the worship of the one true God. 

This area of the “Galilee of the Gentiles” was a place of emotional darkness because they were often the first to suffer from various invaders. It was also a place of spiritual darkness because of the (syncretistic) mixture of true and false beliefs.    

This makes Isaiah’s prophecy about this region even more remarkable. To a land enveloped in such darkness, the Lord offers the hope of light. To the two tribes laid lowest by oppression, the Lord promises the greatest honor. When the time came to send the Light into the world, this very same area would be where the first rays of dawn would shine forth. The people walking in darkness would see a great light. 

After Jesus was rejected by the Jews in Judah, He relocated in the north and made His base of operations in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. This northern country was still despised by the Judeans in the south. They were considered half Gentile, half Israelite, not quite kosher (orthodox) by southern standards. 

This reminds us that God works by mercy, not merit, and that Jesus’ mission is to the most unlikely of candidates – to both Jew and Gentile. God’s heavenly kingdom is flipped upside down from the kingdoms of the world. It works from the bottom up rather than the top down. Jesus ministers to those who think they have their religion all together … but are living in the shadow of death. And He ministers to those who know they are all messed up and continue to live in spiritual darkness. And so despised Galilee is ground zero, and the little fishing village of Capernaum is headquarters. 

Jesus, the Light of the world, made His home up north in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. The people who were often wiped out first had the Savior in their midst. The people who were lost in the darkness of sin could listen to Him proclaim the light of forgiveness. The people who were mixed up in all kinds of false religions had the world’s true God and Savior walking in their midst. In their towns He changed water into wine, healed a centurion’s servant, exorcized a demon from the synagogue, healed a paralyzed man, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and fed over five thousand people. He was shining the light into the darkness for those who needed it most.

Our nation is very much like the ancient area around Zebulun and Naphtali. Our children are indoctrinated with vulgar language, lewd sexuality and violent video games. No wonder they have so many difficulties in school. Our college students are interacting with people who believe that all gods are the same and all religions lead to the same goal. No wonder they often fall away from their Christian faith. Our homes are filled with too much stress, too little forgiveness, and often absent any kind of prayer or Bible reading. No wonder things don’t seem to go right too often in our lives.

We are very much like the Galilee of the Gentiles. We offer up a few prayers, worship once in a while, receive Holy Communion infrequently, are throw a few dollars in the offering plate … and we think we are all right with God again. We have just shown a pen light into the darkness and think we are acceptable. Yet, all around us, the darkness of guilt, the darkness of fear, the darkness of grief, isolation and despair is consuming us. 

We hold membership in a church, send our kids to a Lutheran grade school, appease our conscience by doing a few good deeds and we think we are fine, upstanding Christians. All the while we commit our greatest sins in the darkness. We view images on the computer when no one is around. We gossip with our friends away from everybody else. We plot our revenge in the wee hours of the morning. We get upset and speak to others about the issues we see all around us, but don’t actually confront the student, teacher, co-worker or family member with whom we have an issue. We hide behind the mask of anonymity.  

We shun the light and hide in the darkness. Our sinful nature wants to belong to the night so that we think less and less about the Light of the world. 

We are like the Bastille prisoner. Not everybody wants to be in the light. 

Jesus steps into this darkness in order to shine His light. 

Jesus knows all about the darkness. He was God conceived in the darkness of Mary’s womb. He was born into the darkness on Christmas Eve. He was killed on Friday afternoon as darkness covered the land. His corpse was placed into the darkness of a tomb and then the stone rolled in front. He has personally walked through the dark shadow of the valley of death (Psalm 23:4).

Against Christ, darkness does not stand a chance. Against Christ, our sins cannot prevail and our fears cannot rule. Against Christ, enemies cannot ever extinguish the light. 

The Bible assures you, “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Though you may commit your “favorite” sins in the darkness, you don’t belong to the night. Not anymore. The Light of the world, Jesus Christ, has pierced the darkness. His blood has cleansed you from those favorite sins. You don’t have to commit them any longer. His resurrection light shines so brightly that the devil and his demonic forces can only dwell in the darkness. They no longer have any control over you. The Holy Spirit has called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). 

Satan will always work to make you believe it is nighttime in your life and that darkness is all there is. It isn’t. Jesus has come. Just like He came to the home of the Gentiles, so He has come into your home. He has come for the least and the lost and the little. He has come for those whom the world considers insignificant and irrelevant. … He has come for us. 

While a mother was cleaning up after dinner, she dropped a plate that shattered on the kitchen floor. Naturally, the commotion brought her four-year-old son running. She asked him to go downstairs for the broom and dustpan. He said no words, but you could see the questions on his face: “Go downstairs? Go into the dark, creepy, cob-webby, damp, bug-and-who-knows-what-else-kind-of-monsters-are-down-there basement?”

No, he didn’t want to do that. Mom encouraged, “Don’t worry, son, I’ll be up here.” 

Even that wasn’t enough to dispel that darkness. Falling back on religion, mom said, “Jesus is down there. You don’t have to be afraid. Get the dustpan and broom.” Quickly, the four-year-old replied, “Jesus is down there?” “Yes,” mom assured him. Then it was okay.

The boy walked boldly over to the basement door, threw it open with confidence and shouted, “Jesus, since you’re down there already, mom wants you to bring up the broom.” 

Our world is filled with darkness. There are all kind of monsters who wish to prey on the innocent. There are plenty of scary things that fill up the nightly news. Our world seems to get creepier and creepier all the time.

But we don’t need to be afraid. Jesus is down here. He has entered our darkness in order to shine the light of His salvation. He places His hand around ours in order to rescue us by moving us through the darkness into His wonderful light. 

True, we may not always be able to see the Savior, and it is equally true He isn’t going to deliver brooms and dustpans on request. Even so, He is with us. The Savior, who was born for us, lived among us, suffered our punishment and died our death is here. The risen and ever-living Christ is present to listen to our prayers, protect us from the monsters, scare away the scary things, crush the creepy things and direct us through any darkness the devil, death or this world can produce. 

Yes, I know, the evening news still says there is a lot of darkness in the world. That cannot be denied. But the angels lighting up the night sky, the star leading the Wise Men during their evening travels, Jesus praying for us in dark Gethsemane, Calvary’s cross standing tall in the darkness of midday and the open tomb breaking forth at the break of daylight – all these events proclaim that there is a Light in the world. And where the Light is present, darkness cannot remain. Amen.