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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

PEOPLE WHO WALK IN DARKNESS Isaiah 9:1-17 December 04, 2022


The year was 1809. The world was dark – incredibly dark. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria and soldiers from many countries were dying on the battlefield. The fate of nations hung in the balance, the world teetering on the edge of collapse

In that same year several significant people were born. In Britain, there was William Gladstone - destined to become one of England’s finest statesmen. And Alfred Lord Tennyson, one of the great authors of his day, was born to an obscure preacher and his wife.

In Germany, Felix Mendelssohn would enter to bring the world music of celebration and imagination.

In the US – jurist and scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Massachusetts and that same year, the cries of a newborn infant, Abraham Lincoln, in a rugged cabin in Kentucky.

Had CNN been broadcasting back in 1809, these words would have been heard: ‘The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today.’

But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England, America and Germany.

Who could have known that the cries of battle, would soon be drowned out by the cries of helpless babes? In unforeseen places. Obscure places. Where flickering lights came into a world of overwhelming darkness places.

Certainly these weren’t places people would have thought to look as any solution for what the world needed but quietly, mysteriously, a different script was being written.

But that script pales when compared to the one God determined to write before the foundation of the world. His story would also be set in darkness – far removed from where the wealthy and important gathered to impress. It would be set in obscurity – far removed from palaces and thrones. None of the mighty would gather here.

But this was a place where the needy and searching came. And those needing Light came. They made no claim to be the authors of their lives – they were merely the recipients of life. No exchanging of business cards and no trying to impress with acquisitions or accomplishments. It’s an obscure and insignificant place of which the prophet Isaiah writes 700 years before Jesus.

Ruins of the ancient City of Naphtali North of Israel

Zebulun and Naphtali, two of the 10 tribes living in the northern Israel, that were rarely mentioned in the Old Testament and were never spoken of as important. That is until God mentioned them here in Isaiah 9 as the only tribes in northern Israel that God included in connection with the coming Messiah. With apologies, it would be a little like saying you came from Spuzzum but a 1000 times worse.

Of course, we all know Jesus was born in Bethlehem – south of Jerusalem in the land of Judah. But then Herod learned about the prophecy of a King being born in Bethlehem and seeing this new King as a threat to his throne, he sought to kill Him. But warned in a dream, Joseph and Mary fled with their child to Egypt where they remained until King Herod died. With that threat removed, the family returned to their home but not their home in Bethlehem. No. They returned to the home they’d left years before. Their home in Nazareth in the region of Galilee. Want to guess which tribes once inhabited the land of Galilee? That’s right – Zebulun and Naphtali.

Matthew tells us that early in His ministry, Jesus left His home town of Nazareth… and … he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali - to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Matt 4:13-16

When Jesus began His ministry, He resided at Capernaum in Galilee

· It was in Galilee that Jesus performed his first miracle.

· It was in Galilee that he selected most of his 12 disciples

· And it was in Galilee that He spent most of His time preaching and teaching and

performing various healings and miracles

Ruins of Nazareth village in times of Lord Jesus

Jesus literally brought the light of His ministry to where only the poor and uneducated lived, those who lived in the land that had once been Zebulun and Naphtali.

I remember some years ago going to some seminary classes in Texas. To get there you passed through a large inner city ghetto. What struck me was how inescapable it was. Drugs, poverty and crime had a vice like grip that defined and shaped so much and so many who called this place home. There was little hope of a life outside this place and ‘on life support’ hope within it.

Welcome to Zebulun and Naphtali. When Peter and John spoke before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, they amazed the leaders of Judah because they were obviously Galileans, in other words, they were unschooled and certainly not expected to say anything noteworthy.

But it was in this place, Jesus came to push back the darkness

:2 - 4 people who walk in darkness

In the city, physical darkness could be overcome. The torch lights of one neighbour illuminating the other’s. That darkness could be addressed.

But no amount of torches could overcome the darkness that really engulfed them. The darkness in which they really walked The darkness of fear and emptiness. The darkness of life not working and an inner loneliness that wouldn’t lift. For a time these things could be pushed away by the revelry and laughter but as soon as those things went quiet, darkness rushed in again.

The prophet seems to suggest two distinct types of darkness – the darkness we walk in – situational darkness where life is thrown out of order; the crisis that blindsides; the loss that leaves us grasping for stability; the situation that overwhelms blanketing us with no sense of direction, no sense of escape.

God says that He wants to shine a Light into those places where we will, “See a great light”. A light that will guide us through and guide us out. A light that takes us to its radiant Source.

The second type of darkness, living in a dark land that isn’t situational. It’s chronic. Where captivity is the norm. Where darkness shouts, ‘You’re not worthy of love. You’re not worthy of hope. You’re not worthy of joy.’ You’re not someone anybody cares about. No hope, little meaning. Not seen.

But here’s the promise Isaiah gives, The light will shine on them. A shining light. A directed light – like a spotlight right into the deepest places you live – places others don’t see. Into your core. Obviously, Isaiah is speaking of Messiah, Christ coming into the world but it is more – it is Christ coming into your world – into your emptiness, your hopelessness, your brokenness that you’re convinced, can never be made right. Coming into the places that only you know. And this Light wanting you to hear – Seen. Worthy. Valued. Loved.

This light not a faint glimmer in the darkness. This light not shining in the distance and you get to bathe in a little of its glow. No, this Light bringing, as Isaiah says, gladness 3X, joy 2x, bounty harvest, freedom break the yoke, victory. I’m known. I’m seen. I’m loved. I’m made new!

A Light not merely pointing to something better. That understanding SO misses the mark. This Light shining to offer us a completely different life that we’ve been longing for, that we’ve been waiting for. A new life! A transformed life. All possible because it is all God’s doing. God coming to us – a God meets man place, doing the unimaginable

Anne Voskamp observes that all light involves waiting. That the light we see has been travelling 300,000 km a second, for the last 8 minutes since it left its source — before it shone through the trees, before it broke through the clouds, before its rays warmed our feet. Travelling at that speed - an incomprehensible distance from its source. Distant from its intense heat. Distant from its full radiance.

Do you realize that the same thing is true of God? That what we see and what we understand is so distant from Who He is. Sure, we’ve been given some rays to see and been warmed by His touch but even these are just small representations of what exists at the Source from which these things come. It’s true there are times we are made aware that God is vastly beyond – as we gaze into the heavens and see that His power is far greater than anything we imagine; His glory like nothing the earth has ever seen. But there’s another thing we need to see at the Source that changes everything about how we see ourselves, about our worth, about our value and that is God’s love for us. Love that took His Son to the Cross to pay for all your sin and mine – the Righteous One taking on our pride, our selfishness, our anger, our unrighteousness. That the One, who knew no sin became sin so we might become the righteousness of God 2 Cor 5:21. God willing to forgive even mankind’s most reprehensible when we bow before Him and confess our sin. His forgiveness freely offered us in Christ, paid for by His love. Because it’s that incomprehensible Love given from the Source who IS Love that we can’t even begin to comprehend. Don’t miss this, God doesn’t just give love, He IS love as 1 Jn 4:8 tells us, God IS love.

The Psalmist tells us the same, Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! Ps 36:5-7. And in case you missed it, what Romans 8:38,39 assures, Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

That love that shouts out wanting you to know how loved you are, how valued He sees you to be

And this Christ Jesus comes to us, :6 For a child will born unto us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest upon His shoulders; and His name will be called:

Wonderful Counsellor Israel, just like us, had a habit of listening to the wrong counsellors. Isaiah writes, When men 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? Is 8:19 And make no mistake, we do the very same listening to voices that masquerade as hope and purpose and meaning. Like a friend of mine whose counsellor told him things that made him feel good, things that reassured, things that affirmed choices he wanted to make. Things that had nothing to do with truth, nothing to do with healing, nothing to do with the actions he needed to take. Instead they just lined up with what he wanted to hear. Because real truth wasn’t working for him and instead was getting in the way of how he wanted to live, how he wanted to act. And the counsellor went along making this path as comfortable as he could.

But this Counsellor is someone you can listen to and know His advice isn’t subject to popular opinion. Truth that is right, on which you can stake your life. You may not always feel joyous about what His truth will say – like when He corrects or when He disciplines but His counsel will always bring life, always bring healing. Because He is the author of life and the source of Truth.

the MIGHTY God Jesus, not like the mighty God or a representative of the Mighty God. But GOD! Who spoke the world into existence, who authored life, who shaped the heavens. Yet this same God who says, Suffer the little children to come unto Me. The Mighty who lay His power aside, inviting us to draw near. Yet His Might still powerful to speak into the most impossible situations we face – sometimes His might to overcome, sometimes His strength to carry on, sometimes His comfort to carry us through. But always Mighty upon whom we are called to trust Jesus who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together Col 1:15-17. Mighty as all powerful God but inviting us to be known as:

Everlasting Father – who never abandons His children. Father God who can bring healing into your heartbreak. Father God who wants to bring order into your confusion. A Father who loves even when our actions aren’t worth loving; who cheers us on when we can’t see much to cheer about; who brings His strength when our strength is gone. An everlasting Father whose resources are always open to us. But this Father who invites us to call Him, Abba – daddy. Who holds us close in our pain and who holds us tight during the storm. Who leaves the many to run after the one – in order to rescue, in order to save. A Father who can only be known in that way because of the saving, cleansing blood of His Son, Jesus. This Son who comes to us as:

Prince of Peace – who first and foremost came to give us peace with God. To remove the barrier of sin that divides us from knowing Him. Peace coming into a world that desperately needs peace but don’t miss it, peace into our world of darkness. When battles feel too hard; when storms get too loud and gales blow too strong – peace that He is there. The One who calms the sea. The One who spoke Light into the darkness, and the One who overturns gravestones to bring us new LIFE. The name ‘Prince of Peace’ is the Hebrew Shar Shalom, which means, the one who removes all peace-disturbing factors and secures the peace.

Jesus, Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace Of Whom it is said, there will no end to the increase of His government or of peace. On the throne of David and over His Kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. :7

It’s true, for now we experience these things only in part. The peace we long for doesn’t always come as fully as we may want. The healing not always given in a way that wipes away every tear. But His promises are sure even though in what we see now, so much we do not understand – no different than the story Paul Harvey told of a man who was kind and decent, generous to his family and upright in his dealings with others. But he did not believe in all the incarnation stuff about Jesus and Christmas. To him it didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story about God coming to earth as man.

‘I’m truly sorry to distress you’, he told his wife, ‘but I’m not going to church on Christmas Eve.’

He said he’d feel like a hypocrite so He’d rather stay home. Shortly after the family drove away, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch flurries getting heavier and heavier then he went back to his fireside chair and began to read. Shortly after, he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another and another.

At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter, they had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

He didn’t want to just let the poor creatures lie there and freeze.

Then he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter -- if he could direct the birds to it.

He put on his coat and galoshes and trampled through the deepening snow to the barn where he opened the door wide, and turned on a light. But the birds did not come in.

He figured food would entice them in so he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the yellow lighted wide open doorway.

But to his dismay the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flap helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them then shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms – instead they scattered in every direction except into the warm lighted barn.

Then he realized they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know they can trust me. That I’m not trying to hurt them, but to help them.

But how? Every move he had made frightened and confused them. If only I could be a bird and mingle with them and speak their language and tell them not to be afraid, and show them the way to the safe, warm barn. But I’d have to be one of them, so they could see and understand.

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sound of the wind. He stood there listening to the bells, O Come All Ye Faithful. Inviting into a place that he had shut tight. Inviting. Calling. Welcoming. There’s bread here. There’s warmth here. There’s hope here.

And then he sank to his knees in the snow bathed in LIGHT

that streamed from the barn.

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