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Christmas Eve 1st Reading

Aaron Bolerjack

Christmas Eve’s Old Testament passage is among the most famous -and most frequently quoted- prophecies in all of scripture. Isaiah 9 was recorded in the heady days of King Hezekiah, the (mostly) godly Judean king who dared defy the Assyrian warrior-king Sennacherib. It was quoted frequently by Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ own day, and was repeatedly referenced in the Gospel of Matthew to persuade a Jewish audience of Christ’s messianic bona fides.

In short: Isaiah 9 has been venerated by First Temple Jews, Jews in exile, Second Temple Jews, diaspora Jews -and of course Christians- for roughly 27 centuries.

Its verses also comprise some of the most famous lines in George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, perhaps the most famous work of choral music in human history. In fact, I double-dog-dare you to read through this passage without humming parts of the Messiah to yourself.

You can’t do it. I can’t do it. No one can! It is impossible.

But I digress.

The prophecies of God’s past, present, and future faithfulness contained in Isaiah 9:2-7 are a stirring reminder that the God of Israel’s youth can be trusted once more in her times of (self-inflicted) trial. This prophetic testimony has comforted God’s afflicted people for more than 2,700 years, and in doing so inspired some of humanity’s most enduring works of religious poetry and prose.

And it’s just about perfect for explaining Advent.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”

Here Isaiah speaks to more than just metaphorical, spiritual darkness. The peoples of Zebulun and Naphtali were among the hardest-hit by Aramean and later Assyrian invasions of the northern kingdom of Israel.

And those Assyrians did not mess around; they committed some of the most heinous atrocities ever recorded in the Ancient Near East. Pillaging. Rape. Mutilation. Public execution. And such a broad, horrific variety of torture methods that I will let you look them up on your own. (Helpful hint: I do not recommend a Google image search for “staking”).

But now Isaiah, a prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah, has good news for these seemingly forgotten Galileans: good news is coming, and it is coming to and through and for and from you.