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Advent vs. World Superpowers: What Isaiah Reveals About Christmas

Advent vs. World Superpowers: What Isaiah Reveals About Christmas

Do you fear that foreign invaders will conquer your state? Your city? Burn down your house? Take your family and friends to a foreign country? Liquidate your savings and investments and leave you with nothing?

If you’re American, probably not. 

And you’re also in the historical minority. 

Throughout history, foreign conquest was an expected reality of life – especially if you lived in a highly contested region like Israel. As the only viable land bridge between Egypt and Mesopotamia, this land was a valuable military commodity. Imperial superpowers fought desperately to control it.

The prophet Isaiah watched as the northern reaches of Israel, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, fell under the shadow of Assyria. Twenty years later, the king of Assyria owned almost the entirety of ancient Israel. When he conquered a land, he sapped every bit of wealth it had and exiled its populace to the outskirts of his empire, hoping to assimilate them culturally into Assyria. 

Try to imagine that. Your friends and family scattered. Exiled to countries with different languages. Every worldly possession stolen or lost. 

This is what happens when wicked kings take power. 

Oppression. Loss. Subjugation. Poverty. 

What hope did Israel have against the world’s greatest superpower? What hope was there against a darkness that swallowed every good thing the Israelites had ever known?

The answers to those questions lay on the lips of Isaiah, who wrote:

There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past, he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— 

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 

Isaiah 9:1-5

When the present darkness threatened to overwhelm him, Isaiah looked backward, remembering a day when Yahweh conquered a different superpower: Egypt. 

Yahweh took the Israelites out of slavery and brought them to his land. But their life there was not always easy. Other foreign oppressors (like Midian) came along. But Yahweh provided. He sent Gideon to rescue them from oppression.

We are always tempted to believe that the Egypts, Midians, and Assyrias of the world are the true superpowers. But they’re not. Yahweh is. Not only will he set people free from oppression, he will also unravel the very fabric of evil, injustice, and violence holding the world hostage. 

In these verses, Isaiah boldly proclaims that when Yahweh’s future king comes, people will unlearn war. They’ll burn up their weapons and equipment. As Isaiah puts it elsewhere, they’ll turn swords into plowshares. The machinery of war will become the machinery of life. 

How is this possible?

It’s only possible because King Jesus establishes the first (and only) empire in human history, not by spilling the blood of his enemies but by spilling his own blood for his enemies. Jesus builds his kingdom by challenging his followers to do the same, through self-sacrifice, generosity, and love. 

In the pitch black of this darkness, God shows Isaiah a distant light. 

In Isaiah’s vision, this light expands to encompass the entire world of happiness, family, life, property, and culture that Assyria’s king stole away. The joy Isaiah feels is the joy of a battle won. Of evil overturned. Of feasts with fresh bread and fine wine.

This light is a new king. The true king. 

After Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, he breaks out of the darkness as a new light. Matthew quotes this passage in Isaiah to underline the point that God is turning the world upside down. He describes Jesus’s healing ministry, his teaching, and his confrontation with powers of evil as the defining signs of this new light.

Do you feel like you’re in the darkness? Like you’ve lost things you can never get back? Like there’s no hope for the future? 

Don’t give up hope. Fix your eyes on the light dawning in the distance. This is Advent. This is what we celebrate at Christmas when we remember Jesus’s entrance into the world as a baby in a manger.

With King Jesus comes the power to reverse what’s wrong in the world: sickness, evil, injustice, falsehood. He promises this light will dawn.

Are you struggling to see the light of Jesus this Christmas?

Watch our online Christmas experience, Light in the Night, and spend time in worship and reflection as you celebrate the light of the world coming to end all sadness.