6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Fear in Isaiah’s Judah
Every time I read that passage from Isaiah 9, I can’t help but think of Handel’s Messiah. You know that chorus, right? “For unto us a child is born, unto a son is given, unto us a son is given. For unto us a Child is born ….” And so it goes. And it’s a great song, as is the rest of the Messiah.
And of course, these words, as does the song, express joy, hope and optimism. On their own, out of their context! But when I understood the original context of Isaiah’s words, I see them in a different light. I still see joy and hope but I see them spoken in a context of fear and darkness.
The text is John 1:1-5 – 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (NRSV)
Darkness in the World
I think we can agree that we have heard or seen, maybe even personally experienced, darkness in this world. From the disturbing news in Australia of a mother killing seven of her children, as young as 18 months old, as well as her niece, to the hostage taking in Sydney, Australia where three people lost their lives, to the incomprehensible shooting in the school in Pakistan where over a hundred schoolchildren were killed, to the racial profiling that occurs throughout the world, but in the news lately in the United States with the death of Eric Garner who was choked to death by police, to the news of the two police officers shot dead in New York City, to the shooting at Parliament Hill in THIS [Ottawa] city and the death of Nathan Cirillo, to the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec by vehicular homicide, to the ongoing fight against Ebola in West Africa and the thousands of deaths in its wake, to the horrifying beheadings and reign of terror that ISIS carries out in the Middle East, to the rape and sexual harassment allegations of Jian Gomeshi and Bill Cosby … we can go on and on with our list of darkness in the news. We see oppression, injustice, abuse, violence, and death everywhere.
We do not even need to turn to the news for signs of darkness. For many of us, we have loved ones ravaged by cancer, or other forms of serious illness. Or we turn to our memories and see those who have left us, making Christmas time often a difficult time for us.
I have walked the downtown streets of Toronto enough to know a homeless or street person when I see one. The tell-tale clue is to see where they sleep. Someone who is homeless often sleep in places that aren’t designed to be beds, e.g. by the front doorsteps, between two newspaper vending machines, on a park bench, etc. The baby Jesus, as so many Nativity scenes remind us, ends up sleeping in a manger, an open box in the barn where the livestock eat out of. It is, for me, a symbol of homelessness.