The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isa. 9:2)

Imagine trying to make your way through a forest or jungle in utter darkness. Suppose there is a new moon, or it has already set, and the stars of little help. You don’t have a flashlight–or iPhone–to light your way. That would be scary. Think now of a different kind of darkness, a darkness of the soul. This darkness leaves you feeling hopeless and despairing. It is a kind of darkness that leaves you wondering, “Why don’t I just end it all?”

Isaiah prophesied during a dark time in Judah’s history when it was so hopeless people wept for days on end and sat in ash piles because that was the only appropriate response. In Isaiah 8, Isaiah foretold of coming national defeat when all hope would seem lost. This was fulfilled when Assyria ransacked the northern kingdom of Israel (c. 720-722). Assyria’s conquering wasn’t a small military demonstration. It was epic devastation. Children were killed in the streets. Women were raped. Men were slain and taken off as prisoners of war. Even before the invasion, all hope was lost, for it was God’s word and it was sure to take place.

In the midst of darkness and anguish and gloom, Isaiah prophesied hope: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa. 9:2). In 9:1, Isaiah had just referred to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, where much of the Assyrian destruction took place (see 2 Kings 15:9; 2 Chr. 16:4). This hope would come, Isaiah said, through a special baby born to Israel, who would  reign on David’s throne and establish his kingdom with justice and righteousness (Isa. 9:7). All of Judah and Israel’s hope was set on this baby.

Hope arrived and light dawned at the coming of Jesus. Born in a horse’s trough in a podunk town to a teenage mom and poor adoptive father, this baby would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to [God’s] people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Jesus began his ministry in Galilee (where Naphtali and Zebulun were located) to fulfill what Isaiah wrote in his ninth chapter (Matt. 4:12-17; cf. Mark 1:15). He came not to bring political liberation or social reform. He came not to take vengeance on Assyria (nor on Egypt, Babylon, Persia, or Rome for that matter). He came to bring light to those in spiritual darkness, to make all who believe in him children of God: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4, 9).

Later in his ministry, Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). World. Jesus did not only come for those in Galilee who were left hopeless after the Assyrian invasion. As Luke 2:32 (mentioned above) foretold, Jesus came for all who have were invaded by sin and left devastated. Like ancient Israel who was once left in gloom and anguish by Assyria, so you and I have been devastated by sin, death, and Satan. We were left for dead and clinging to anything and everything for hope, yet no hope came. Money, sex, relationships, fame, power, security, comfort, food. All leave us in darkness wanting more and more and more.

Despite the dark night, however, we share with Israel in God’s promise of a great morning light. Christ has triumphed over an enemy greater than Assyria. He has conquered our spiritual darkness and hopelessness. Jesus endured the darkness of death and separation from the Father so that we who believe in him might have relationship with God and never taste death. Will you believe in the hope Jesus gives? His triumph is worth celebrating this Christmas.

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