Isaiah 9:1-7: “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It may seem too early to be reading this passage from Isaiah. That’s because this reading is usually part of the Advent and Christmas readings. This reading is also very familiar, especially if you have ever heard or sung Handel’s Messiah. Let’s look at this passage in two ways, because we need to understand the meaning of this reading in the lives of those who first heard it, before we can talk about what this reading has come to mean for us.
You may remember last week when we read Amos. The kingdom of Israel had split into a northern kingdom called Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah. Judah was ruled by King Ahaz. This week’s reading takes place many years later, and in the meantime, the Northern kingdom of Israel had been subjugated to the king of Assyria, who wanted to expand his kingdom. Isaiah had urged the people in the south to trust in God, but king Ahaz didn’t listen and things went downhill from there.
Isaiah 9 begins with Isaiah speaking to the southern kingdom, assuring them that God has not abandoned God's people. You can imagine how the people felt when they heard that God was going to lead them out of the darkness of occupation and oppression into the light of a new day. The child that Isaiah speaks of may have been the son of Ahaz, who had just been born. But that is not clear.
What is clear is that God has promised to rescue God's people and will never abandon them. Remember, God loves all people. And when people started to hear about Jesus, they remembered the words of Isaiah. And they thought, that sounds like Jesus. So, another layer of meaning was added to this passage about God's redeeming love now coming to us in the person of Jesus. Not just a messenger of God, but God's own son. God has never and will never abandon us. Even in the fearful times we live in, God is with us. Not only was God with the people of Isaiah’s time, God was still speaking to the people in Jesus’s time.
The words of this passage can speak to us today, as well. We are navigating tough times ourselves, and unfortunately, we have not always remembered God's love for all people. We have allowed things other than God's word to divide us. It’s almost as if we are occupied and oppressed, not by a foreign king, but our own fear. We need to hear the words of this scripture in our time, too. God is still speaking to us, calling us to trust in God's love. Amen.