Hope in the darkness (Isaiah 9:1-6)

What does Christmas have to do with hope and peace? Just the usual drivel? Or is there more?

Service, Christmas Vespers,, , Evangelical Free Church congregation Leichlingen

, automatically translated

Introduction

Well, always these expectations at Christmas... You expect a delicious meal and some hope it's not fish (transition from the sketch "How does Christmas taste?").

Expectations and hopes also play a big role at Christmas time. I'm expecting a present tonight and hope it's a drone.

That was a little joke, I already have a drone, I saved it up two years ago.

The opposite of hopes are fears. I am expecting a gift tonight and I fear it will be a tie.

But let us leave these sillinesses -- although I may have touched on very real hopes and fears for some -- and look at a Christmas text from the Old Testament (Isaiah 9:1-6; NL):

1 For the people who live in darkness see a bright light. And on the people in a land overshadowed by death a bright light shines. 2 You multiply the people and give them great joy. It rejoices over you like a people at harvest time, like rejoicing people dividing booty among themselves. 3 For as in the day of Midian, God breaks the yoke that oppressed his people and the rod on their necks, the whip of their driver. 4 All the booming marching boots and blood-soaked coats will be burned and fall victim to the flames. 5 For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. On his shoulders rests dominion. He is called Wonderful Counsellor, Strong God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 6 His reign is great, and the peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom will be endless. He establishes and sustains it for all time through justice and righteousness. This is what the LORD Almighty will work for in the long term.

Hope for a people in darkness

The first verse is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 4:15,16, where the move of Jesus Christ to Capernaum is described, in the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, in what was then the land of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.

This means that this bright light from the text in the New Testament is related to Jesus.

One must know that in the chapter before, in Isaiah 8, a time of darkness was described for the people of Israel, which came through the turning away from God. There was fear of an overpowering enemy, there were occult practices, which often go hand in hand with fear.

And now a light has been announced. I just equated darkness with fear, which may not always fit. But in the darkness you don't see a target, you don't see what's coming, and that seems quite threatening and scary.

The bright light shows you the goal and the way.

In the northern hemisphere, Christmas falls during the dark season and you always see a lot of Christmas lights everywhere. Every now and then I have the nasty thought that electricity is not yet expensive enough, but I understand that many people suffer from the darkness and that Christmas lighting helps. And with LEDs, it's no longer so expensive, so I push this nasty thought away again.

Jesus Christ is our hope, our light. If you can take this sentence, which you have probably heard a thousand times, with you again, then this year is already a precious Christmas.

Joy

The second verse is a little more specific:

2 You multiply the people and give them great joy. They rejoice over you like a people at harvest time, like rejoicing people dividing the spoils among themselves.

"multiply the people": one no longer belongs to just a few, one is no longer alone. In the darkness one often feels alone because one does not see the others. The light also shows us our neighbour, our fellow brother, our fellow sister.

"Joy in God like...": Like harvest time, like people dividing the spoils among themselves.

I have to wince for a moment at "loot", because that sounds somehow criminal, like piracy or theft, but it's all about the feeling here. Imagine you find a treasure together with others and you get to keep it. You can now pay your debts, you can do something good for your family, you can maybe finally treat yourself to something, like a holiday. And you share this joy with the others who have found the treasure with you, and there is enough for everyone.

There is no envy and everyone is happy together.

Liberation and peace

Then the darkness is addressed once again:

3 For as in the day of Midian, God breaks the yoke that oppressed his people and the rod on their necks, the whip of their driver. 4 All the booming marching boots and blood-soaked coats will be burned and fall prey to the flames.

First of all, it is about liberation. The north of Israel, at least the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned earlier, were under Assyrian rule and the liberation announced here was then also implemented in Isaiah 37.

But we personally may also suffer under a yoke and be under pressure. More than the perhaps somewhat platitudinous statement that one can become free through Jesus, I cannot offer in today's framework. The way there is always a very individual and personal one. But as I mentioned earlier, other brothers and sisters are there, you are not alone.

And then it's about peace. I find it kind of scary that the first part of the fourth verse, "All booming marching boots", is a statement that almost all people in all times understand. There is no need to explain anything culturally here, this statement is completely timeless.

There is no getting around the war. There has always been war somewhere in the world in the past decades, but this time it is so close.

Some church people have referred to the so-called Christmas truce of 1914 in the First World War as a model, asking whether this would not also be possible in Ukraine.

I have the Wikipedia article on this
(https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weihnachtsfrieden_(First_World_War))
very exciting, I can only recommend it. This Christmas truce took place mainly between German and British soldiers in Belgian Flanders and neighbouring French areas. At one point, the soldiers even celebrated a joint service where Psalm 23 was read, first in English then in German.

That was great, but it's a bit of a glorification today. The French and Belgians were hardly involved because the war took place on their land and they were directly affected by the destruction caused by the German occupiers. So it was more of a story without those directly affected, as is sometimes the case today with various discussions about the Ukraine war.

If you now look at the two verses politically, you realise that liberation from the yoke and the destruction of weapons somehow belong together. So peace in oppression cannot be the solution. Peace and a life of freedom must belong together. The term "freedom" has often been interpreted in a funny way by politicians, but you understand what I mean, I think.

The child

Let's get to the bottom line:

5 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. On his shoulders rests the reign. He is called: Wonderful Counsellor, Strong God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 6 His reign is great and the peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom will be endless. He establishes and sustains it for all time through justice and righteousness. This is what the LORD Almighty will work for in the long term.

It's really Christmassy now.

However, it annoys me personally when people talk about the Christ Child who is supposed to bring the presents. Father Christmas is quite clearly located in the universe of the Tooth Fairy, but the Christ Child, who, depending on the culture, is imagined as a curly-haired baby angel who brings the presents, can really distort the view of the real Jesus Christ, who came into the world as a helpless baby and became our wonderful counsellor, strong God, eternal Father and Prince of Peace.

Let's take a closer look at these four terms.

And then there is the talk of endless reign, in peace, law and justice.

This is not, of course, a theocracy where a few people in strange robes and headdresses decide where things go.

The kingdom of God here on earth begins in us personally. If we join Jesus Christ, give our lives to him, then his peace can grow and spread within us. This also includes his justice and also his mercy.

Perhaps this sentence seems too kitschy for Christmas, especially when you think of your own failures. Here I was nasty, there I hurt someone with my manner, elsewhere I may not have settled a dispute but rather fuelled it.

I think we all experience this sometimes, but it is nevertheless true that the kingdom of peace of Jesus Christ begins in us personally.

And in the last sentence of our text, the word "sustainable" really does appear, at least in the translation "New Life". It's a word that seems to be bandied about at every opportunity these days, and rightly so, because we have tended to ignore sustainability in many areas in the past.

I read the verse again:

His reign is great and the peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom will be endless. He establishes and sustains it for all time through justice and righteousness. This is what the LORD Almighty will work for in the long term.

This is, of course, a glimpse of eternity, but, as I said, it also begins here with us personally.

And I believe that God has a lasting interest in you personally, and he has a lasting commitment to you and to you experiencing his peace.

Summary

I will conclude by briefly listing the individual points once again: