Summary: How focusing on the incarnation can help us avoid the stress of the holiday season.
This week I ran across a popular on-line Christmas card that probably summarizes the feelings of many people about the stress of the Christmas season. It read:
Oh my gosh it’s almost here
Santa and his Christmas cheer
I still have so much to do
Already I’m becoming unglued
Scurrying about like a frightened mouse
I haven’t even made my gingerbread house
Christmas tree and popcorn to string
Who’s going to do all these things
My bank account looks mighty sick
And my Christmas list is so darn thick
The blue light specials help a bit
At least the Christmas tree will be lit
Sure jolly old Santa he can laugh
At all the bills we amass
As if I didn’t have enough to do
I have to bake a cookie for him too
Unfortunately, even of us who focus on the incarnation of Jesus during this time of year, can get caught up in the stress that is created by the worldly expectations of the season. So we tend to eat too much and spend too much and then we have to live with the consequences for quite some time, which creates even more stress in our lives.
But, as we would expect, we find an antidote to that self-induced stress in the Bible. So we’ll turn to the book of Isaiah one last time this morning and once again see how the words of the prophet Isaiah provide us with hope and joy as we focus on the incarnation of Jesus. We’ll be reading the first seven verses in chapter 9:
1 But there will be no gloom for her who was 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 has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 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.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:1-7 (ESV)
This passage is part of the same section of Isaiah that we examined last week in chapter 7. Much of the historical background for this section is provided in 2 Kings 16-19. Ahaz and the people of Judah are faced with the threat of attack from Syria and Israel. But even though God had promised to protect Judah if they would seek out his help, Ahaz decides instead to make an alliance with the Assyrians. The Assyrians do indeed crush the alliance between Syria and Israel, just as Ahaz had paid them to do. But then they just kept on coming south right into Judah and threatened Jerusalem. It was certainly a stressful time for the people of Judah and so chapter 8 of Isaiah ends with this description:
And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
Isaiah 8:22 (ESV)
But God, through the prophet Isaiah, wants to give his people hope in the midst of what looks like a hopeless situation. So chapter 9 begins with a promise of a time when there will be no more anguish. Even though the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, which are in the northern kingdom of Israel, had been overtake by the Assyrians, there would be a time in the latter days when God would reverse that situation. And then, beginning in verse 2, Isaiah describes the process by which that is going to occur.
Multiple Fulfillments of Prophecy
The key to understanding that prophecy, as well as many others in the Old Testament, is to recognize that there are multiple fulfillments of this prophecy. We saw that last week with the prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14, which had both an immediate fulfillment in Ahaz’s day as well as a future and final fulfillment with the virgin birth of Jesus. Hopefully you’ll remember that we also saw that same pattern in the book of Joel where from Joel’s perspective he could look back to an actual locust invasion while at the same time looking forward to a near-term army invasion that would have many similarities to that locust invasion, and also looking forward to the “Day of the Lord” which would be the culmination and final fulfillment of his prophecy.