By Doug McClintic
The term “great light” here in Isaiah seems strange to twenty-first century ears. We are used to an analytical and artificial understanding of light. We talk about the nature of light waves and particles. We bathe in artificial light that streams from tablets, phones, LEDs, and millions of bulbs. In Isaiah’s world, without much in the way of artificial light, the imagery jumps off the page. The people have seen a great light! When is a light a great light?
The light is great when it is contrasted with deep darkness and shadow. The Hebrew word for “the shadow of death,” צלמות (tsalmâveth), speaks of a curtain of gloom, deception, and decay that has been drawn across the minds of a people in exile, a people under occupation, a people numb to the lies of a culture of death and violence. A culture in which the religious professionals of the day were locked, as many are today, in compromise and “peacemaking” with the idols and idolatries of the times. Treaties were signed with the false seal of tolerance and expediency. In such dark times the light is warmer, the light is more welcome, and the light is more winsome as it shines upon us with the power of the Spirit and with the certainty of revelation. A weary people embraces the light even while the elite shrink from the light’s moral clarity.
The light is great when it is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says in John 9. Without him all is darkness, but with him “all is calm, all is bright.” This great light was cast in all its brilliance across a cattle stall in Bethlehem, and across the shores of Galilee, and across the hill of Golgotha, and the across the stage of human history—forever altered by the Living One, who was dead and now is alive forever (Revelation 1:18).
The light is great when it shows the way beyond even the advent of Jesus and his light-giving presence in the region of Galilee. The prophet points to a day beyond our wildest dreams, our deepest aspirations, and our most fervent hopes. This is a day of victory, a day of justice, a day of abundant harvest, a day of liberation from the yoke of oppression and persecution. This is the dawn of the final age when the light bursts forth, never to be extinguished! The King and the Lamb become the center and source of light in such a perfect and powerful way that even the faithful sun is no longer needed to light the way!
O Christian, join me in longing for, in laboring for, and in leading toward that glorious day when in his light we shall see light. Let us adopt the attitude of John the Baptizer who did not confuse himself with the light but who witnessed to the light! Let us reflect this flesh-embodied light in all that we say, think, and dream; own, buy, and sell; write, pray, and think; treasure, give, and keep.
Prayer: Father of Lights, multiply your light in us and through us for the sake of a world walking in deep darkness. Grant that we may be shining witnesses to the true Light who is coming into the world. Amen.
Doug McClintic supports church planting in the Synod of the Great Lakes as Church Multiplication catalyst of Luminex Collaborative. The 2016 Advent devotions were written by RCA church planters and parent churches.