12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
As we begin the Advent Season, we recognize the need to see afresh and anew what Christmas is and what difference it should make in our lives today. Amidst the din of advertising, decorations, gatherings both public and private, and the unending drone of “Christmas” music, let us reflect on the magnitude of what happened so long ago.
In Matt. 4:12-17 we have the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. That is not usually where we start the Christmas story, but the miraculous birth of the Savior lacks meaning if we separate it from the rest of what Jesus said, did, and fulfilled. For from the time of His conception in the womb of Mary, until the time of His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to and dependence upon the Father. His perfect obedience and perfect righteousness were both required to achieve the reason for His coming: the salvation of sinners and the fulfillment of God’s plan.
In this passage, we are told that the ministry of Jesus began in the exact place that God had said it would 700 years beforehand through the prophet Isaiah. Think of all of the things that transpired over those centuries: births, deaths, wars, leaders, border changes, etc. Left to the decisions of men, God’s plan could never come to pass. But, the God of history was pointing to the fact that His Story would be told, whatever men and kings might try to do to prevent or thwart it. His Story is still being told today. Count on it!
The coming of the Messiah was the bringing of the light to those for whom darkness had become the norm. What did the light need to overcome? First, it had to overcome the darkness of the human heart. People are not “basically good” and seekers of that which is good. No! Each person comes into the world with a sin nature and a heart that is in opposition to the things of God. (Look at Jer. 17:9, Ps. 14:1-3, Ps. 51:5, and Rom. 3:10-20 if you are in doubt about this.)
Second, the light had to overcome the darkness of human society. The effects of individual sin led to sinful behavior, practices, policies, and interaction in society at large. The world into which Jesus came was torn apart by injustice, hatred, war, corruption, and greed. (See Is. 59:1-14; Rom. 1:18-32 for descriptions of human society both then and now.) Indeed, before Christ came it was a time of “those dwelling in the region and shadow of death.”
Yet, in the goodness of God, at the perfect time, and in the most glorious way, to those same ones languishing in darkness, “on them a light has dawned.” Jesus Christ came and proclaimed Himself to be “the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). In becoming human, yet remaining fully divine, Jesus shines His light of truth into the hearts of every person, revealing what is there, and showing the need for repentance and forgiveness of sins. The one who has received the new heart that only God can give (Ezek. 36:25-27), which John calls the “new birth” (Jn. 3:1-8), is enabled to see his sin, see the Savior in His beauty, and call out to Him in faith and repentance. Seeing this light, one can walk in the light of the truth. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). Have you seen the light? Do you understand the true meaning of Christmas?
Then, the light of Christ shines into the darkness of the culture, and as His children live out the Gospel message and proclaim the truth, the impact of His message permeates all and every aspect of human society. Injustice is overcome, the power of addiction is broken, hatred is turned to love and respect, the prisoner of sin is set free, and people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, stations, and colors, come and worship the One who is the hope of the world. (See Lk. 4:18-21 to see the impact of the Gospel on individuals and society.) Are you helping to spread the light of the Gospel through your own life?
Once the true light had come, the expected response to His message became clear. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Turn away from sin and rebellion. Turn away from self-reliance and the pursuit of pleasure. Turn away from hatred and narcissism. Turn, rather, to the LORD and to His holiness. Turn to His righteousness and grace. Turn to His way of doing things. Let the Gospel take root in your lives and show itself in action, word, and deed. That is the meaning of Christmas and the purpose for which Jesus came. May each one of us be among those on whom “a light has dawned”!
The song “O Holy Night!” is a favorite to many at this time of year. An updated version captures the author’s original intention of the song, one that shows the meaning of the Gospel and the impact of the light that was coming into the world. I commend it to you this Advent Season. Merry Christmas to you all! The Light has come!
(Hear the Gospel Story)
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
Humbly He lay, Creator come as creature,
Born on the floor of a hay-scattered stall.
True Son of God, yet bearing human feature,
He entered earth to reverse Adam’s fall.
In towering grace, He laid aside His glory,
And in our place, was sacrificed for sin.
Fall on your knees! O hear the gospel story!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
Come then to Him Who lies within the manger,
With joyful shepherds, proclaim Him as Lord.
Let not the Promised Son remain a stranger;
In reverent worship, make Christ your Adored.
Eternal life is theirs who would receive Him;
With grace and peace, their lives He will adorn.
Fall on your knees! Receive the Gift of heaven!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O holy night when Christ was born.