Late last night, as I was trying to pull the day to the close, amazed that in the morning it would already be Christmas Eve, I felt a bit of unrest. If you’re like me, you start getting excited for Christmas right on the day after Halloween; the songs are playing, Christmas lights begin to appear around your home, and you’re in the holiday spirit quickly. But it’s short-lived, and by the time December 24th rolls around, you’ve already gotten distracted with other things. I wrestled with this last night.
But more than that, what I wrestled with was the knowledge that the year I had to look back on was less than encouraging. One of the lessons I’ve been learning for the past few years is what it’s like to be graciously disciplined by God. I say graciously because I know that is the truth, but 9 times out of 10, it feels like… well, Hell. Living a life that seems constantly and actively haunted by reminders of your past sin is less than pleasant, and downright confusing for a believer. I am a Christian because I have put my faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of my sins and peace with God—but, sometimes, in all honestly, I feel like I don’t have the right to do that. After all, Christians are holy people, right? Christians don’t struggle with habitual sin, right? Christians choose God’s will more than their own sinful wills, right? Sadly, friends, if those are the qualifications for being a believer, then, when I look at my life, I guess that makes me something else. It’s hard to be honest about these feelings and put them on the web, but I have committed to honesty in this blog. Good thing it is Christ and not my own achievements or failures that makes or breaks my name as a disciple.
And maybe you’re like me, and maybe these are thoughts that have haunted you too. Maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve been able to sing “Blessed Assurance” with all your gut.
And maybe you’re asking, what does this have to do with Christmas?
Well, friend, it has everything to do with Christmas.
You see, last night, God showed up to me, and shone a light on something in the Christmas story that had always been there, but I had never really seen (or at least focused on). It’s found in the passage that I’m sure all of you heard quoted in your Christmas Eve services tonight.
“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.
You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
The boots of the warrior
and the uniforms bloodstained by war
will all be burned.
They will be fuel for the fire.
For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!”
(Isaiah 9:1-7, NLT)
Now, it’s not entirely obvious to the Canadian eye when you look at this passage, but there is an element in this prophecy of Christ’s birth that rarely gets preached in our services. The key is found in verses 1 and 2.
“That time…” what time? What time is Isaiah speaking of? Well, we know in the following words that this is a time of “darkness and despair.”But if you take a brief glance at the preceding chapter, you can easily see that “that time” is referring to the sufferings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians. But this wasn’t just a matter of a foreign nation invading; no, this was a matter of the Northern Kingdom, with its host of wicked, Yahweh-hating kings and corrupt people, being judged, punished, bruised for their own sin. This is a time when these backslidden tribes were getting their just deserts and being cast into darkness for their rejection of God’s gracious calls to repentance. Now I’m not trying to be all dark and stuff, but this is the state God’s people were in when this promise was given…
Which tells you a bit about who it’s for…. “those who walked in deep darkness,” as the ESV Study Bible notes, were those who refused Isaiah’s invitation to “walk in the light of the Lord” in Isaiah 5:2.
This was a promise for backsliders.
Oh Come all Ye Faithful is a great song and all—but God, in his mercy, shines his light upon the faithless.
So, what does this mean for us?
You, Christian who are wavering in your faith.
You, brother, who are struggling with sin,
You, sister who are haunted by your past,
This gift is for you,
Embrace it full-fold,
And cast off your garments of shame,
And be clothed in grace.
And this gift is Jesus,
The Savior of the world
The Light has come,
As Leonard Cohen wrote
“Ring the bells, the bells that ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in you,
There’s a crack in everything…
That’s how the light gets in.”
Merry Christmas Eve,
I apologize for the briefness of this post, and maybe it seems disconnected,
but tonight calls for celebration! Get yourself some!