On Them a Light Has Dawned
Today we take up a small passage but with great meaning. Jesus spent his childhood in Nazareth after Joseph and Mary retuned from Egypt when he was a small child. Nazareth lay in the region of Galilee. Galilee was about 60-70 miles north of Jerusalem. Throughout much of its history, it was bordered by the Phoenicians to the north and the Syrians to the east. Located far from Jerusalem and surrounded by pagan nations, Galilee was influenced for the worse. The region was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. As part of Assyria’s foreign policy, some of the Israelites that lived in Galilee were deported and pagans brought into the land. By the time of Christ, some seven hundred years later, Jews were living there but still in “great darkness” because of all the pagan influence over the centuries. In this passage, it is also called the land of Zebulun and Naphtali because they were the ancient tribes the land had fallen to by lot when the land was divided after the Israelites conquered it, long before any of the history I just outlined.
But as was said, by the time of Christ, it was a region of great darkness. Indeed, this passage in Matthew is straight out of Isaiah 9:1-2 where Isaiah prophesies that the people of that dark region would see a great light. The reason for this “great light” that Isaiah foresaw was because “to us a child is born, to us a son is given … and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). You are familiar with this passage from Advent and Christmas; it is all about the wonderful reign of peace the Messiah would bring.
Well, he came. And as he performed much of his ministry throughout Galilee in towns like Cana and Capernaum, light indeed came to the region after so many centuries of darkness. It is light that the gospel brings – the light of the Father’s love in sending His Son, the knowledge that forgiveness is obtained through faith in him, that we can know life and peace by walking with him. Ironically, it is Christians now who walk in a land of darkness, “dwelling in the region and shadow of death,” otherwise known as the world. We are now exiles, sojourners, pilgrims, and aliens, living in a land far from our home. But we are called to shine light in this dark place by word and deed. Someday, our Lord and Master shall return and we shall dwell in a place so bright that not even the sun is needed but the glory of God will be its light (Isaiah 60:19; Revelation 21:23; 22:5). Until then, we praise the One who brought the light that shined so brightly on sinners such as us.