Things were difficult for Israel. But Isaiah prophesies a future victory for God’s suffering people. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). This victory will be complete: even the clothes of the oppressing forces will be fuel for the fire (verse 5). The reason for this victory is given in verse 6: “for to us a child is born.” A child is born who will bring deliverance to Israel. To speak of the birth of this child, Isaiah uses the Hebrew prophetic perfect tense: that is, a past tense which speaks of a future event. The significance of this tense is that the future prophecy is so certain of fulfillment he can speak of it as if it had already happened. So seven hundred years before the birth of the prophesied child Isaiah declares the child is already born.
It should not be surprising that the word God speaks can determine the shape of history for centuries to come. After all, God created the world simply by speaking. Genesis describes the creation of the world in these words: “And God said...” And so when God speaks, it is not merely a possibility, a prediction or a forecast: it is his creative word of power which carries within itself its own fulfillment. An acquaintance of mine is a senior metereologist on Canada’s weather network. One of his favourite phrases to avoid blame for the bad weather he forecasts is this: “I’m in prediction, not production!” But for God, prediction is production: “I watch over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12).
Never underestimate the power of God’s Word. When we appropriate for ourselves the promises of God’s Word, we enter into their power. Our words have no power, but God’s words have all power. Of course, we must line our lives up with his will to receive his promises. He is our Provider -- but have we honoured him in our finances? He is our Protector -- but have we taken foolish risks through failing to obey him? If you line your life up with God’s Word, you will inherit its promises.
The Hebrew tense also emphasizes the fact that the fulfillment of the prophecy -- the birth of the promised child -- will take place at a particular and definite moment in history. God’s promises enter into this world and make his presence manifest in the midst of our darkness and doubt. He intervenes in the flesh and blood existence of our daily lives. You and I today can take hold of the promises of God. God offers us more than a vague philosophy. He brings who he is into this world in order to change it. Hebrews 1:3 states that when Christ came into the world, he came as the exact imprint of God’s substance. The word “imprint” refers to the image on a coin -- the exact likeness of the one pictured. The word “substance” refers to the very essence or reality of who God is. When the child was born, God came into this world -- not a likeness of God, not a shadowy image, not someone who had some of God’s characteristics, not a good man or a moral teacher or a wise philosopher, but God in all his substance and reality. And this is what makes Christianity radically different from any other religious faith or philosophical viewpoint. Neither Buddha nor Muhammad nor Marx came into this world as God. Jesus did. He is not a philosophy. He is a person.
The victory the Jewish people were looking for came in an unexpected way -- so unexpected most of them missed it entirely. The victory came when the child born in a humble stable died hanging naked on a Roman cross. The victory came in such an unusual form both the Old and New Testaments call it a “mystery” (Daniel 2:29-30; Romans 16:25; Revelation 1:20). The Jewish people were expecting a political Messiah who would drive the Romans out. The Messiah did come, but exercised his divine authority over history by dying on that Roman cross. Resurrected and ascended, he now rules from the throne of heaven. And also do we -- if we are prepared to follow in his steps of ruling not by might and power, but by sacrifice and love.
That is the message of Christmas. May it enrich and change your life every time you consider it.