In Advent we realize that the birth of Jesus is part of a bigger story, thousands of years long and eternal in scope. It includes the prophecies of people like Isaiah, who lived 2800 years ago, centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene. He was an ordinary man whom God tapped to be a prophet in Judah.
Judah was a small nation with mighty nations surrounding it. The only way the kings thought they could stay safe was to make the best alliances with those other powers, and to fight against the enemies of their so-called friends. Their security was shaky, based on the whims of other kings and conquerors. Isaiah kept telling them that they should trust God, but they wouldn’t listen. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, they say. Better the chariots and horses you can see than the God you cannot see. Better the idols of those other strong nations, even though idols were made of wood or stone and could easily be broken apart, worthless and powerless to do anyone any good.
Isaiah said that God would make a light shine in their darkness if only they would trust God. (Is 9.2) The thing is, the upper classes in Judah did not see the problem. They were prospering, albeit at the expense of the poor. They simply chose not to think about how vulnerable they were, how their security was built on a shifting foundation.
Their situation sounds too familiar. We feel secure if we don’t think too hard about our situation. But when we do, the news about riots and lootings, disease and rising prices closes in on us, making life feel darker and darker. Blocking it all out is its own kind of darkness. My own sense of helplessness to do anything about these events sometimes makes me feel panicky, given to despair when I lie down at night. The darkness is real.
John said that Jesus was the light who came into the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. No matter how depraved the criminals, nor how bad the diagnosis, nor how frustrating our economy and politics and conflicts, nothing and nobody is beyond the scope of Jesus’ light and the power of his love. His light shows what is true and his love heals all brokenness.
In Isaiah's time they thought him crazed for saying things were gloomy when they weren’t. Their bellies full, their fortunes had been made and regularly sacrifices burnt to make a show of opening to God while turning a deaf ear to those whose cries were heard in heaven, many lacking food and suffering the cost of rich men’s lives. The prophet saw the thin veneer of pride that covered fear and deeply harbored sin, how rulers schemed to have themselves allied with power that would vanish in the wind. In him the dream persisted, clear and strong of God who made them all and loved them long.