Hope is not a postmodern mantra for a radical reordering of society by political force. Hope is a belief that light will replace darkness.
“The Days are Surely Coming: Advent Messages of Hope” has been our theme during these four Sundays leading to the Festival of the Incarnation.
Our Advent series of messages now concludes on this Christmas Eve with the sermon that I am calling hope for a new light. Our Christmas Eve passage is taken from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verses two through seven. Here the inerrant and the infallible word of the living God.
1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Ascription and Prayer for Illumination
The grass withers and the flowers fade but the Word of the Lord will endure forever. Let us pray.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable and Thy sight. And let me preach is if never to preach again, as a dying man to dying men. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.
Hope is not a postmodern mantra for a radical reordering of society by political force. Hope is a belief that light will replace darkness.
Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness is both universal — cosmic, if you prefer — as well as personal. Darkness is the state of the world without the applied creativity of God. The universe was void, dark before God created light.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” 
Darkness is the shadow cast by calamity. Sin casts a shadow of darkness. When Jesus Christ was crucified the Bible states a historical fact: darkness descended upon the scene of the crucifixion though it was the middle of the day. Creation cast its shadow in the presence of the unimaginable deicide act at Calvary. Let us also be clear: God is greater than darkness. God rules over darkness. Darkness is subject to God. It is not independent of God. Nothing can be if God is God.
Light, on the other hand, is a creative activity of God that dispels the darkness. Light is both universal, that is, “cosmic,” and it is personal. God said let there be light, and there was light, and God saw that it was good. And that creative act of bringing light into the universe was the inaugural event that ultimately brought or will bring light into every place of darkness. While darkness is associated with gloom, trouble, distress, evil, despair, and chaos; the creative impulse of Almighty God which is light coming from God is associated with joy, restoration, contentment, goodness, hope, and renewal.
It has been said that every trouble that we endure in this life cast a shadow. This shadow is a dark reminder of death. You escape a car accident, but you are left with scratches or perhaps broken bones. But you say to yourself, “well, I escaped death.” But the truth is that you are saying there is a shadow of death stalking you. It didn’t get you this time. We receive a medical report of a disease. The disease may be terminal, or it may create affliction that will change our lives. The sense of despair or fear is darkness. You receive a report that the illness has miraculously gone away. You feel renewed and hopeful. This hope is light.
The Bible says that God is light and in him, there is no darkness at all. To know God is to know his son Jesus Christ who is called, “the light of the world.” We may put it another way. Unbelief is darkness. Faith in God and his plan for salvation is light.
When Isaiah made his prophecy in Isaiah 9:1 – 7, Isaiah stated that the world was in darkness. But Isaiah said that the darkness would be overcome by a light, a light that would come forth from Israel to the Gentile nations across the sea. His prophecy here culminates, or we might say “is clarified” by saying the light that dispels the darkness of the world will come from this One who is called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of peace. Jesus Christ is the light. And in saying that we affirm with the Scriptures that darkness exists but is overcome by the creative energy of the triune God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. To know him is to introduce light into your life and your world. To understand fully what the passage is saying to us we might consider to eras that existed or exist in relationship to the coming of Jesus Christ. Let us use what we were used to, how we mark time in our world. Let us begin with this,
Jesus Christ is the light. And in saying that we affirm with the Scriptures that darkness exists but is overcome by the creative energy of the triune God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
The World Before Christ
Isaiah’s prophecy is grounded in historical fact. When Isaiah wrote these words, the only light that existed in the world, spiritually, and therefore culturally, was a tiny light — a singular slither of illumination from heaven — shining in the hearts of a small number of Semitic peoples in the former land of the Canaanites. Note I say that there was a small number. Not all of Israel was Israel Paul said. Not all believed. But for those who did there was a light burning in their hearts. Isaiah will say that this light is too small to be confined to the sons of Jacob. He said that it was a light for the Gentiles, a light for the nations, a light that would be dispersed throughout all of the earth.
The world before Christ was a very dark place. If we had a spiritual satellite taking pictures from outer space, we do not even be able to see the tiny dots of the light along the Mediterranean Sea where present Israel lies. And what do we mean by this? We intend to say that the world, including unbelieving Israelites, existed in darkness. Their souls were unregenerate. Their minds were covered in utter shadows. This did not mean that they were content with this darkness. They recognized that hopelessness was the default setting for humanity. They dealt with the same things urinary deal with every day. Death, sorrow, illness, separation, mistakes, the sins of the flesh, and all other sorts of tribulations were present in their lives. They sought to discover a light that could dispel this darkness. I have walked among the ruins of those in search of the light. I have seen with my own eyes the world before Christ as it exists today in artifacts. My family and I have walked through the British Museum. I have seen what my forefathers and mothers did to dispel the darkness. Celtic superstition, then importing the foreign gods when their indigenous deities failed to serve them, and a host of other religious acts to dispel the darkness. However, their attempts were futile. Every effort the British made to dispel the darkness with idolatry created greater darkness. These were my ancestors: blind men grasping in the utter dark for a light that they could never find.
Notice how Isaiah uses Hebrew parallelism to amplify the night of the Gentiles:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them has the light shone. Did you see that? “Deep darkness.” Here we have a picture of the world as it was before Jesus Christ. But we must not think only of this time before Christ in cosmic terms but also personal terms. Men and women in Boys and Girls Club without Jesus Christ and therefore they were without light, without hope. Death and its gloomy shadow stalked human beings then as it does now.
When I was a young man one of the greatest fears I had was to wake up as an old man and to discover that life was meaningless. That was a shadow cast from fear and despair that followed me even into my dreams.
So let us be very clear: the Bible is historically correct at this point. Idolatry was the pervasive and default religion throughout the earth. There were offerings of children to idols hoping to find light by offering innocence. People would worship the creation rather than the Creator and hoping to rid themselves of this darkness.
Such was life before Christ. But Isaiah prophesies the day when this wonderful counselor, this mighty God, and this Prince of Peace shall come. The light of this One will shine from Israel out to the Gentile nations. Those who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. We see how Jesus is the Light as we consider history from our affirmation: Jesus was born to be the light of the world.
We see how Jesus is the Light as we consider history from our affirmation: Jesus was born to be the light of the world.
The World after the Coming of Jesus Christ
We notice that Isaiah says the people who dwell in darkness “have seen a great light… on them as light shone.” This means that the light was not self-generating. The people did not discover the light in the religious pilgrimage. No, the light had to come to them just as the light had to come to Israel. We must never think that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Joshua somehow discovered a light within themselves and from this great discovery a culture of rollers that influence the world. Absolutely not. To the contrary, they lived in darkness until the light of God came upon them. Until God came to Abraham and made a covenant that he would do for mankind what mankind could not do for itself, the people who recalled Israel lived in darkness. Christendom, as it became known, did not become such because of a cultural predisposition towards God. Quite the contrary, my ancestors and yours were pagans and had not God sent the apostle Paul and other believers to them we would live in darkness.
Soon after the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the empowering of the church at Pentecost, the gospel mandated Jesus was fulfilled in all of the known world. I’m not saying that every person received Jesus Christ, but I’m saving the Truth of Jesus Christ made an inroad into the nations of the earth at that time. This, by the way, is what separates Christianity from the religions of men. I’m speaking of history. I’m talking about documented historical records. The gospel went from Jerusalem out to Judea, Samaria, and unto all the world. My family and I have stood at the very place in old Madras India where St. Thomas brought the gospel and was martyred there. I stood with my son in Rome at the place where the apostle Paul had been imprisoned. I stood in the Roman Coliseum that was built in the Province of Illyria. When Paul speaks at the end of Romans of having gone as far as Illyricum, we can see today where he preached. There was a magnificent transformation that went on in that place. It was a place where there were human sacrifices. That Coliseum, which was unearthed by the communist scientists in 1968, bore witness to the fact that it became a facility where Christians gathered for worship.
I have stood in the place where the ferocious beasts were cribbed until the iron was gate opened and the animals went into the open of the Coliseum to devour human beings. Those same rooms, under the Coliseum, which surrounded the Coliseum, now bear witness to a transformation. Yes, there are still slats in the floor where the iron date was affixed. Today, one is able to see stone tables which served as altars, i.e., communion tables. One is able to see mosaics which were embedded into the wall; pictures of Peter and Paul and others who preached the gospel. This is a magnificent depiction of what happened throughout all of Europe and throughout the known world. It is also an example of what is happening now in the mission of God in the world today. Where beasts were kept to kill believers, chapels were erected to worship Christ. The light of Jesus Christ is transforming the darkness of our idolatry and its consequences into the illumined pathway of hope.
Where beasts were kept to kill believers, chapels were erected to worship Christ.
So, when Isaiah prophesies that the light will come, we must realize that there was a world before Christ in the world after Christ. The world before Christ was very dark with idolatry and sadness and brutality. The world after Christ is a world we light has come. We are even the darkness of the shadow of death has been dealt a blow because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Before our Savior ascended into heaven, he gave the great commission: that we should go throughout the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them whatsoever he commanded. This is our work. This is why we planted this church. This is why I was called to preach. Intimate on Christmas Eve I want to leave you with two grand charges. Firstly, if you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you are living life “before Christ.” You know about him, but you do not know him? You may even be able to recite Scripture, but have you received the Scripture into your life? Has it transformed you? Is there light active in your life that is taking over the darkness, the remnant of sin that remains? I call you in the name of the Lord Christ to repent on this Christmas Eve. I call upon you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace.
“For to us a child is born, to us, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder.”
What government is that? It is the kingdom of God. To be in the kingdom of God is to surrender your life to the appointed king, Jesus of Nazareth, there is fully God and fully man. He lived the life you could never live. He died the death that should have been yours. He rose again from the dead, the first fruit of many others. Receive him today as your Lord and Savior in the light of Christ will begin to wash away the darkness. Secondly, we have a living illustration of this truth tonight. We ordinarily have the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper on Christmas Eve to re-calibrate our lives back to Calvary. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is the new Passover which is to be celebrated frequently. The old covenant sign of entrance was circumcision. The old covenant sign has been replaced with Baptism. Just like your covenant sign, the New Covenant sign is given but once. Four it represents the activity of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Baptism is not your testimony of faith to God as much as it is God’s sign of grace to you. Tonight, on this wonder-filled evening before the Festival of the Incarnation that we call Christmas, we celebrate not only the Sacrament of Holy Communion but the Sacrament of Baptism. As an entire family comes forward now to receive this sign of the New Covenant let each and every one of us renew our faith in Jesus Christ and give thanks that humans engrafted us into his one true family. To be his son or his daughter is to have walked out of the darkness and into the light. You cannot walk under your own power. Turn to Christ. He will lead you. And to possess the gift of His light is to have new hope in every area of life and death.
This is our Christmas Eve message tonight.
Let us pray.
Almighty God our heavenly Father, for the sake of Thy dear Son our Savior Jesus Christ grant that the light of Jesus may dispel the darkness of our night, our unbelief, our loneliness, and our despair; and through the power of the Holy Spirit give unto all who call upon Thee now the light that overcomes darkness, the faith that illumines our minds, our hearts, and our world. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Calvin, John. Commentary on Isaiah. Ravenio Books, 2012.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
Freedman, David Noel, Allen Myers, and Astrid B. Beck. “Eerdmans Bible Dictionary.” Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. From Darkness to Light: Aspects of Conversion in the New Testament. Vol. 20. Fortress Pr, 1986.
Henry, Matthew. The Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
Heskett, Randall. Messianism within the Scriptural Scroll of Isaiah. Vol. 456. Tamp; t Clark Ltd, 2007.
Lewis, Scott Martin. “So that God may be all in all” the apocalyptic message of 1 Corinthians 15,12-34. Roma: Ed. Univ. Gregoriana, 1998.
Motyer, John Alexander. The Prophecy of Isaiah. Inter-Varsity, 1993.
Packer, James Innell. Knowing God. InterVarsity Press, 2011.
 “There is no thought that darkness is equal in power to God’s light. The absolute, sovereign God rules over the darkness and the powers of evil. This is evident in several ways. First, God knows the darkness. He knows where it is (Job 34:22) and what it contains (Dan. 2:22). Second, God rules over the darkness because he created it (Isa. 45:7; cf. Amos 4:13; 5:8). Third, God uses the darkness for his own purposes: to hide himself from the sight of men (Ps. 18:11; 1 Kings 8:12) and to bring his judgment on evildoers (Deut. 28:28–29; Matt. 8:12; 22:13), evil nations (Ezek. 30:18–19), and false prophets (Jer. 23:12; Mic. 3:6; Rev. 16:10). Finally, God rules over the darkness eschatologically. The time of God’s ultimate judgment, the day of the Lord, is portrayed in both the Old Testament and New Testament as a day of darkness (Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18, 20; Zeph. 1:15; Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12–17). Walter A Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996.
 “God’s first acts of creation were the creation of light and the separation of light and darkness (Gen. 1:3–5). God maintains his creation by maintaining this separation of day and night (Ps. 104:19; 148:3–6; Jer. 31:35–36; 33:25). The heavenly bodies through which day and night are separated (Gen. 1:14–18; cf. Isa. 60:19) were worshipped by other peoples and sometimes by the Israelites (Deut. 4:19; 2 Kgs. 21:3, 5; Jer. 19:13). Light itself was used in a wide range of positive metaphors and identified as an essential aspect and symbol of the manifestation of God’s presence and blessing (e.g., Ps. 44:3 [MT 4]).
Light occurs as a metaphor for life itself (e.g., Job 3:9, 16, 20; 18:5–6, 18; Ps. 49:19 [MT 20]; 56:13 [MT 14]; cf. Prov. 13:9). It can also represent what is good in life, whether prosperity, safety, salvation, and blessing (darkness representing calamity; e.g., Esth. 8:16; Job 30:26; Ps. 112:4; Isa. 9:2 [MT 1]; Lam. 3:2; Amos 5:18, 20; cf. Job 22:11, 28; Isa. 30:26). Light symbolizes truth and right guidance (Isa. 42:6; Luke 11:33–36 par.), often the word of God (Job 24:13; Ps. 43:3; 119:105; Prov. 6:23; Isa. 2:5; John 5:35; 2 Pet. 1:19). It also represents divine or human favor shown in facial expressions (Job 29:24; Ps. 4:6 [MT 7]; 89:15 [MT 16]; Prov. 16:15), understanding and wisdom (Dan. 5:11, 14), that which comes as surely as the sunrise (Ps. 37:6; cf. Jer. 31:35–36).
God himself is light (Ps. 27:1; Mic. 7:8), “the light of Israel” (Isa. 10:17) and uses light to expose that which would be hidden (Ps. 90:8; 139:11–12; Luke 12:3; cf. Dan. 2:22; 1 Cor. 4:5).” See David Noel Freedman, Allen Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, “Eerdmans Bible Dictionary,” Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
 This is the teaching of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. Jesus is the centerpiece of cosmic history. His resurrection has inaugurated a new world that will consummate in His second coming and an eschatological event in which “God will become all in all.” All darkness will recede to the light of God.
 See, e.g., James Innell Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 2011).