The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;This is such a familiar passage to us at this time of the year, particularly if you attend a performance of Handel's Messiah, and especially if you attend this liturgy. Maybe so familiar the message doesn't pack a punch anymore. While there are the obvious references to the Christ Child easily discerned in an act of "lecto divina", I would like to delve into the text and see if there is more than that. As I remind those who read this post, these are only the observations of a very ordinary person in the pew and meant as a point of departure for your own insights.
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David's throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!
"The people who walked in darkness...those who dwelt in the land of gloom." That would be us. That darkness and gloom is sin, what we inherited from Adam and Eve and those thoughts, words, and deeds we have and haven't done. Are you the Pharisee or the tax collector mentioned in the Gospel of St. Luke (18:9-14)? Do you truly see your need for redemption and sanctification? Is your recitation of the Confietor during Mass and your Act of Contrition during the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as humble and sincere as possible?
I echo the sentiments of those who bemoan the loss of a sense of sin in the world today, which is why I make mention of it at times when I write. And lest you think I am a hypocrite, the most oft repeated prayer of mine right now in my life is the "Jesus Prayer". While I don't know the state of your soul, I do know the state of mine.
"A great light...has shone." That would be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Light of the World as mentioned in the Gospel of St. John, heard at the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord--During the Day (1:5). As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. As humanity was made in the image and likeness of God, the first act of disobedience marred both in us. Light and goodness needed to re-enter the world. And so, in the Christ Child, it has.
"You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing." The birth of a child is always cause for joy. Now that God has given us His Son, that joy is infinite and everlasting. And that joy is because our salvation is now at hand, culminating in the victory over sin and death in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
"As at the harvest...when dividing spoils." For different reasons, these are occasions for celebration. The former is in gratitude for the blessings of life; the latter, in gratitude for the overcoming of an enemy. And what greater celebration can we have, as Jesus has overcome the Enemy and given us abundant life?
"For the yoke...the pole...the rod...you have smashed, as on the day of Midian." Historically, this passage refers to the conquering of Midian by Gideon (cf. Judges 6-7). Allegorically, this refers to the conquering of the yoke of sin, the pole of enslavement to evil, and the rod of the taskmaster Satan. God's hand was involved in both.
"Every boot...every cloak...will be burned." These remnants of war will be destroyed so that peace may be the order of the day. In the war for our souls, either the remnants of sin will be destroyed through the flames of Purgatory or sin remain with us in the flames of Hell. As St. Augustine reminds us, while God created us without our consent, He can only save us with it.
"For a child is born to us, a son is given us." Emmanuel. God is with us. "...Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages....For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man."
"Upon his shoulder dominion rests." Recall the words of the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunication: "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33) The Father has given the keys of the kingdom to His Son (cf. Isaiah 22:22). Heaven and earth are full of His glory.
"They name him..." When I was an undergrad, I remember seeing a poster with the various names and titles ascribed to Jesus, each complete with a biblical reference. In the middle of the poster were the words "I AM", mentioned various times in the Gospel of St. John (and especially in the Passion Narrative). This is the ultimate reference to Who He Is. Any other title, including the ones mentioned here, is only a signpost leading us to the Tetragrammaton.
"His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.". It is evil and sin which destroy peace, both within us and throughout the world. Only when "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", only when "people of good will" do the will of the Father, only when we allow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to reign over us, only then will the song of the heavenly hosts ring true. Only then will there be "peace on earth".
"From David's throne, and over his kingdom." The beginning of the Gospel of St. Matthew establishes the Messianic Lineage. Israel longing for a king like David would have to wait some 28 generations, yet very few recognized Him when He came. The same question to the new Israel, the People of God, could be asked today. Are we the shepherds and Magi, or are we Herod? Who is our true ruler?
"He confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever." There has been so much emphasis on the mercy of God the past few years that His judgment and justice is being downplayed and overshadowed, if not completely ignored. Remember, He will come again to judge the living and the dead (Matthew 25:31-46). Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said we could be surprised at who we would and wouldn't find in heaven and that could include us.
"The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this." And what is that zeal? It is nothing less than God's love for us. John 3:16, anyone?
You have to read the preceding verse to get a better sense of the walking in darkness the Israelites was doing:
There is no gloom where there had been distress. Where once he degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, now he has glorified the way of the Sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the Nations.The gloom is gone. The Light of the World now shines. No darkness shall overcome it.
Hodie Christus natus est.