“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.”
~ Isaiah 9:2
This is a very well known Christmas text. It’s a famous text that speaks to the coming of the Christ. And it describes the conditions the Christ is coming into as darkness. People walking in darkness. People living in the land of darkness. And we read this a lot at Christmas, but we don’t ever read the verses right before it. The four verses right before it tell us why the world is so plunged in darkness.
“When people tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law! And to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, they have no light of dawn! Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” ~Isaiah 8:19-22
People know they need help, but they’re looking for it in all the wrong places. They’re looking to the earth, they’re looking to themselves for wisdom and salvation. They’re looking to superstitions, they’re looking to their king, they’re looking to the culture — they’re looking to themselves.
Yes, we’re living in darkness. Yes, things are really messed up. But we can fix it ourselves. Yes, there’s war and violence and injustice and racism. But if we’ll all just love each other, we can fix it. Yes, there’s poverty and hunger and greed and lust. But if we’ll all just give to the right organizations, we can change it. Yes, there’s broken lives and broken hearts and broken relationships; there’s twisted bodies and warped minds and institutional vileness all around us. But if we’ll just vote for the right people, if we’ll just pass the right laws, if we’ll just use the right technology, we can overcome it.
The message from the Hallmark movies, the holiday music, the Coke commercials, the ad agencies, the billboards, and the Facebook posts is that we have it within us. The love and goodwill that exists inside each of us is enough to make the world a place of unity and peace. In other words, we have the light inside us. And if we just work together, we can eradicate the darkness. If we’ll all come together, we can overcome poverty and injustice, violence and evil — sin. With what’s inside us, we can build a world of love, joy, and peace.
Really? Can we?
We can’t save ourselves. Maybe you’ve noticed. We’ve been trying for centuries. We are completely unable to save ourselves. In fact, believing that we can save ourselves — that education or party politics or hard work or some system or ideology can save us — that’s only led to more darkness!
See, the Christmas message gives us a very realistic way of looking at life. At its core, Christmas is very unsentimental. It’s not mushy or fantasy. Christmas is not, “Cheer up! If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place!” Christmas is not optimistic thinking like, “We can fix the whole world if we try really hard.”
The heart of Christmas is this: things are really terrible and we cannot heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark. Everywhere. Nevertheless, there is great hope. On those living in deep darkness, a light has dawned!
It’s not, “A great light has sprung up from the world!” It’s not, “The people have finally produced the light!” It’s, “ON the people a light has dawned!” It’s, “ON the world a light has come!” The light has come from outside us. It had to. The hope comes from outside the world. There was never any other way. And that salvation light is Christ Jesus. That light is the promised Messiah, the holy Son of God!
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world.” ~John 1:5-9
The true light was coming. The eternal light that gives life to all people has come. The brightest light that shines in the darkness and conquers the darkness, the light from above, the light from outside us has come!
“To us a child is born. To us a Son is given.”