Summary: God sends Jesus to bring light to a world darkened by sin.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined." Not many of us today have any real concept of darkness. We probably think of it as dark right now, but in fact we live in a world where even in the dead of night light is everywhere. So much so that we tend to take light for granted. You get up in the middle of the night and your bedside clock is glowing, the streetlights are shining in the window, your neighbours have their lights on. You can see where you’re going quite clearly. But it wasn’t always the case. I remember when I was growing up, which wasn’t that long ago, can I say, we regularly had blackouts: usually during electrical storms. So there was always a supply of candles and matches nearby and a hurricane lamp in the garage to light so you could see again, because when you have a blackout in the middle of a storm it really does get dark. Most of you are old enough to remember those days I think. If you are, do you also remember what a relief it was when the candle was first lit. That tiny light made such a difference didn’t it? And when the power came back on it was even better.
Well that’s the feeling God is trying to convey, only more so, as Isaiah presents this prophecy of a salvation that will reach to all people. He says God is planning a salvation that will reach to the farthest ends of the earth, a great light to shine on people who live in deep darkness.
People used to think of those who lived in darkness as being the people of Africa. They even talked about darkest Africa. But these days I think we’re realising that darkness is a thing of the heart rather than geography. In fact this has always been the case. Listen to what Romans 1 says about this: "19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools;" (Rom 1:19-22 NRSV)
You may have seen the article in the Sunday age the week before last about a group of humanists who are trying to have humanist philosophy taught as part of the Religious Education program in schools. They want to remove the concept of God from social education. Instead they want to teach humanist ethics, whatever that is. Well leaving aside the question of whether you can claim it’s religious education at all if you deny that God exists, what you’re left with, if you take God out of the discussion, is a social ethic that has no foundation. The only argument you can put forward then for ethical behaviour is the common good, the good of the majority. But if you think about it, there’s actually no basis, other than perhaps fear, on which to claim that the good of the majority matters. Unless we have some external grounds for judging our behaviour, anything will do, anything goes. Whatever I feel like must be right.
I saw a cartoon the other day where Santa was saying he’s given up making up a naughty and nice list because these days no-one can agree on what’s naughty.
These humanists who want to remove God from the equation may claim to be wise but in fact they’re fools, because they’ve removed God’s standards as the criteria for behaviour and put a hollow, groundless ethic in their place. Yet notice that it’s to just such people that our gracious God has sent Jesus to bring light to overcome their darkness.
Well let’s spend just a few minutes thinking about this prophecy to see what God has promised through his son Jesus.
He says "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". Again, most of us have no real concept of oppression. Our idea of oppression is having to deal with Telstra or a Bank or some government department; waiting for hours in a queue while they assure us that ’our business is important to them’. But here he’s talking about real oppression, a real burden. The nation of Israel had suffered for generations under the assault of foreign nations, culminating in the siege of Jerusalem by Assyria, then a few years later their defeat by Babylon. So the promise of release from this burden must have been a much longed for hope.