1But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. 3You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. 5For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. 6For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:1-7
For some reason, I can’t help but feel a sense of gloom at Christmas. As you get older, what was a magical time, is now a sobering if not sullen time. But things have changed. Remember when outdoor Christmas lights could survive a Cat 5 hurricane, when everyone had a manager scene outside their place, when Christmas pageants were bigger than Tom Cruise? Then it was easy to pull off a decent “holiday” season. Families were nuclear–not nuked. It didn’t require a cruise ship or something akin to war planning to get everyone together for the holidays. Back then you’d wake up to blinding movie lights with nervous gleeful anticipation of toy trucks, cap guns, drum sets and Tinker Toys. Now, the family meanders to the tree, all on their iPhones, to collect a stack of gift cards.
I remember piling into the cavernous back seat of our 1958 Chevy and crossing town to my cousin’s. I’d envy what he got and he’d ogle my stuff. Then we’d sit around a big table with dusty centerpiece for dry turkey and watch adults try not to yell at each other like they normally did. Sooner or later everyone ended up in easy chairs listening to my uncle spin tales, except for the moms, who took four hours to clean up the kitchen. All along Bing Crosby would be singing Silver Bells in the background on a scratchy record player. Those were the days.
Yes, there are the realities of advancing age, the knowledge of eventual sickness and death, awareness of things spiraling out of control in the world, the frailty of any financial security we might have these days. But hey, what does Christmas signal? The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace is on the ground!
While a return to the fifties is only possible in a DeLorean, there exists a constant transcending source of Yule Tide cheer. I think it’s why they started this Christmas stuff in the first place. If it can be so in “the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali” in Bible times, why not now? For me?
Zebulun and Naphtali were codes words for the area occupied by the Northern Kingdom which in 732 B.C. became an Assyrian province, thereby humbling the Israelites, bringing about certain discipline and desperation. But what happened when the Lord came? Where did he conduct most of his ministry? Galilee, that’s right. Through this area was a major international highway, providing a straight route for the conquering Assyrians. But in the time of our Lord, it was a straight and glorious path of “great light.”
Here’s how Matthew saw it (Matt. 4:12-17):
Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.”
No time is happier than a harvest reaped or victory won. You get to enjoy the produce of the fields, or the spoils of conquest. Far more the gladness produced by the presence of the Lord! When Jesus first arrived more than 2000 years ago, it was to a limited number. Now we sense his presence inside, and His Spirit produces gladness in spite of conditions that might otherwise produce doom and gloom. In the future, for all believers, there will be constant and certain gladness. We will be in His presence.
The original Christmas gift was The Child humbly born. This same child would ultimately bear the full weight of the government of all mankind, fueled oddly by his peace. In a future day, people “will study war no more.” Justice and righteousness will reign. His zeal will accomplish this. Oh, that we might manifest this same zeal as we await his second incarnation, just as certain as Isaiah foretold his first.
There should be a great burden lifted from our backs as followers of the risen King. The yoke should be loosened. The grating rod on our shoulders lifted. The boot on our throats released. All that represents doom and gloom was gone the instant Jesus breathed his last. All the doom and gloom was transferred to his shoulders in death, but in three days he rose and a new light dawned. Nothing should rob us of our gladness at Christmas–or at any other time.
No one wants Christians to be zealous for their Lord. We can be pious and irrelevant. Just don’t wear the presence of the Lord on your sleeve. Everything that we encounter in life, both good and bad, is cause to point upward in rejoicing and gladness, because God is causing “all things to work together for good.”
Are we expressing a gladness that wells up from within despite our circumstances? That compelling joy (mentioned more than twenty-four times in Isaiah) will turn the hearts of the people, because they will see the authenticity of Christ in us (his presence), just as the first disciples did in him.
God with us then and now!