For many of us, Christmas 2020 is befitting of the year we’ve had. On a global level, we’re battling a pandemic, wars, natural disasters and an economic crisis. Large parts of the world are experiencing political upheaval and racial tensions, and now, the emergence of two new, more infectious variants of Covid-19. While on an individual level, many people have had to home-school their kids and meet work deadlines simultaneously, and they were the lucky ones. Many have lost their jobs because of the lockdowns and with it, the dignity of being able to cater for their basic needs. Some have lost friends and family and haven’t been able to grieve with a community around them.
I know families that have experienced unspeakable tragedies this year. As I write, I know of a family in lockdown where both parents are battling the horrible effects of Covid-19. They have 3 young kids which they still have to look after without any help. Furthermore, loneliness is prevalent, especially among the elderly. Many people no longer have the communities they relied on for support, security and companionship. I’m married to a surgeon and she, like many of her colleagues, has had the most challenging year of her career. Working conditions have been excruciatingly difficult for most medics. Many of these heroic men and women have made lots of personal sacrifices with little reward. I’m sure there is a litany of gut-wrenching stories out there to further underline the fact that this has been a terrible year for many.
I’m reminded of the story of the Chilean miners. On the 5th of August 2010, the San Jose gold and copper mine in Chile collapsed, trapping 33 miners. Imagine how those men must have felt, stuck nearly half a mile underground. They couldn’t tell if anyone was coming for them. In utter desperation and hopelessness, some of the miners considered suicide and even cannibalism. Sadly, because of the tragedies of this year, many more people around the world can relate to their desperation and hopelessness. Many of us feel as though we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death [Psalm 23:4].
It’s fascinating that when Isaiah prophesied the birth of the Messiah, 700 years before the first Christmas, the king and the people of Judah who received the prophecy were under threat. It wasn’t a time of peace and jubilation, it was a time of danger and desperation. Fast-forward 700 years to the first Christmas, the situation is similar. Israel was under Roman oppression and life was hard. The Romans demanded extortionate taxes from the people, curtailed their liberties and poverty was rife. I’m certain many in first-century Palestine thought that life wasn’t worth living either, just like the Chilean miners and many struggling with their circumstances today.
Now, imagine the joy of those Chilean miners when the first sign of hope broke through their dark cave in the shape of a drill, 17 days after the mine collapsed. For the first time, there was credible hope that their story wasn’t going to end in the cave. They could dream of a future where being stuck in a cave would be a footnote in their lives’ story. This is the precise cord Isaiah strikes in his prophecy about the birth of Jesus: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” [Isaiah 9:2]. This was a message of hope to a desperate nation bound by darkness. It’s a message which resonates with me, especially after this year. There is hope, a light has broken into my dark cave. Salvation is imminent.
John echoes the same message at the beginning of his gospel. The prophesied hope is not a false dawn. Indeed, a conquering Saviour is coming: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it” [John 1:5]. That light isn’t going to be extinguished by the surrounding darkness because that light is God in the flesh [John 1:1-4]. It would take a further 52 days for all the miners to be rescued. Their wait for rescue is also an allegory for what many of us are experiencing today. We have seen the light, but we’re still stuck in the cave, experiencing every travail that comes with the cave. If that describes you, then Isaiah’s prophecy is for you. The baby, born of a virgin and lying in a manger, is a sign of hope, but He is also Immanuel – the God who is with you down there in your cave, while you wait for the promised rescue [Isaiah 7:14]. You’re not alone [John 14:18].
Lastly, Isaiah’s message of hope isn’t just for the pious, well-put-together Christians. It’s for everyone. It’s for those overwhelmed by life, those overwhelmed by the depravity of sin and those forgotten by society. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to discount yourself from this Saviour, except you deliberately reject Him. Luke describes a scene you couldn’t make up in His gospel. Shepherds were society’s outcast, they travelled, ate and slept with the herds of their wealthy employers. They were unkempt, despised and often, ignoble. Yet, it was to shepherds that God sent His angels to announce the most important birth in the history of mankind [Luke 2:8-20].