I’m writing this from a local coffee shop on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. When I’m through here, I have a couple of errands to run. All the stores will be decorated with lights and greenery. The streetlights are adorned with banners declaring “Peace!” Songs like “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” will play across loudspeakers, followed by songs like “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” and “O Holy Night.”
At this point in our increasingly secular culture, thankfully it’s still not considered taboo to play songs in public about the birth of Christ during the Christmas season. But what difference does it make that Jesus Christ — God in the flesh — came to earth as a baby boy? Specifically, why should it matter to pastors and church members laboring in difficult places with hard soil?
“The People Walking in Darkness”
In Isaiah 9, God’s people were experiencing tumultuous times. In fact, in Chapter 8, Isaiah had just declared a disturbing word of the Lord to His people Judah: “I’m going to bring the Assyrians to conquer my people, who have turned away from me.”
Isaiah goes on to describe exactly how bad things will be: “They will wander through the land dejected and hungry. When they are famished, they will become enraged, and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction, and they will be driven into thick darkness” (Isaiah 8:21, 22).
Things are rough in Judah. Maybe you’ve been in churches that seem almost this bad. While I’ve never personally experienced anyone who’s a part of a local church outright cursing God, I have experienced a lot of folks who will fight tooth-and-nail for their own comfort and preference over God’s plans for their church. Sadly, many would actually prefer to see their churches die than have to change (now that I have heard).
If you’ve ever experienced this, perhaps you can identify with Isaiah’s description of the people of Judah: “They will wander through the land dejected and hungry.” Being in a dying church can be a stifling experience. There’s not much joy. Even songs like “Blessed Assurance” and “Joy to the World” are sung like funeral dirges with scowls on faces.
Perhaps you’ve even seen people become bitter with the neighborhood for not coming to their church, as though the people of the neighborhood existed for no other reason than to bless the church with their attendance. Maybe rather than outright cursing God, they will curse the very mission field they are called to love and serve.
This is a rough description that Isaiah gives of the people of Judah — the people of God! They’ve lost their way. It would seem that there’s no hope.
“Have Seen a Great Light!”
But all is not lost. There is hope for those living in darkness. In fact, there’s so much hope that Isaiah repeats the promise:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness” (Isaiah 9:2).
Isaiah goes on to declare the depth of this hope: the nation will be enlarged, its joy will increase. The people will rejoice as they do at harvest time. Oppressors will be crushed.
What is the cause of the end of darkness and an increase of joy? A child!
“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7). The coming of a child will change the story for God’s people.
Indeed, the coming of Christ has changed the story for every man, woman, and child who will trust in Him. And a renewed passion for seeing Christ’s glory declared in churches where the darkness of gloom has taken over will change the narrative for churches and, prayerfully, even for entire communities.
God is not done with your church, just as He was not done with the habitually disobedient people of Judah. There is still hope. This Christmas season, look to the beauty of the manger, the agony of the cross, and the hope of the empty tomb and realize that our God loves bringing things that were once dead (or very nearly dead) back to life.
If you’re struggling with curmudgeonly church members, remember that Christ is the Prince of Peace. If you need wisdom in leading the church God has called you to love and lead, remember that Christ is the Wonderful Counselor. If you simply need to cry in the loving embrace of One who understands, remember that Christ is the Everlasting Father.
Finally, realize that, even in places where there has only been darkness and gloom, the light of Christ has come to bring joy and new life!,
Published December 12, 2019