The people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2)
‘Melt-down’ is an over-used cliché today, much resorted to by journalists – but Isaiah’s word Darkness is better, when describing a situation in which no one is certain what to do, nor where any future hope can be found.
Fascinatingly the prophet Isaiah – in foretelling the coming light of Christ into the world – was writing in what could be called the tense of the prophetic past. So certain was his vision, that he wrote of God’s blessings in the future as events that had already happened. Other prophets did the same, as they cast themselves forward in time, seemingly to look backwards on the sure actions of God in coming days.
And yet in 733 BC, Isaiah’s own people were facing the biggest menace they had ever known. Assyria, boasting the world’s first professional standing army, was massively armed; unprincipled, heathen and contemptuous of every god and religion in sight. But Judah’s young king Hezekiah, faced by a threatening letter from Assyria’s king Sennacherib, was to find encouragement from Isaiah. Prayerfully taking the letter into the temple, he ‘spread it out before the Lord’ (2 Kings 19: 14). Isaiah for his part sent a message of godly defiance to Sennacherib. Unexpectedly there then took place the God-given collapse of the hostile army, and Sennacherib’s withdrawal.
Believers today can learn from Hezekiah. Whatever happened to the epic of the Reformation? To the writing of Bunyan, the preaching of Spurgeon, the great awakenings under Wesley and Whitefield? What became of the triumph of the Sunday Schools, the rock face of marriage, the hold that the Christian Sunday once had upon our islands? What of the persecution of Christ’s disciples in many countries today? How to react when faced by some banner headline of violence, secularism or aggressive atheism?
Answer: Take it and spread it out before the Lord – with the message of the prophets and apostles at your side. For tomorrow has always belonged to them, never to the military dictators, terrorists or political opportunists.
We will then, like Hezekiah, gain a fresh confidence from the light of Jesus’ coming among us at Christmas. Aware of events on every continent we will even be surprised to learn that Christ’s is the fastest-growing family of belief in the world. Such a Light can never be put out. Augustine declared, as long as sixteen centuries ago –
“This Child of the manger fills the world”