In the Dark
Right now, the people in Barrow, Alaska are sitting in darkness and won’t see the sun for another full month. Every year, Barrow, located 320 miles North of the Arctic Circle, is in complete darkness for 65 days. Scientists call it Polar Night. The locals call it Endless Night. It’s a long, cold, dark winter.
What happens to humans when they live in prolonged night, in sub-zero temperatures? Bad things. According to psychologists, some residents in that region suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—a condition triggered by extended light deprivation.
Some symptoms seem harmless: an urge to sleep longer, craving carbohydrates, gaining weight. Other symptoms cause alarm: low-to-moderate-grade depression, a dramatic increase in suicides, divorce, and substance abuse—the highest in the nation. Prolonged exposure to darkness hurts us. We need light in order to live. God knows.
You’re probably familiar with Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
We bump into that passage every December. Isaiah tells us of a coming son who will rule and bring peace. He’s writing about a hopeful future, while also addressing his contemporary audience. That announcement was not given to people unwrapping presents and carving the Christmas turkey. They were in a bad way:
They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. Nevertheless there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. -Isaiah 8:21–9:2
Hear a theme? “Greatly distressed and hungry,” “gloom,” “anguish,” “darkness,” “thick darkness,” “deep darkness.” One of the most popular Christmas verses we celebrate was a declaration of hope given to people who were waiting in darkness.
The phrase deep darkness is an unusual compound word. It literally means the death shadow. Isaiah combines the ideas of darkness and death to describe the condition of his audience. But in that darkness, a surprise emerges: divine help.
The word Nevertheless is a shock, an interruption in the flow of thought. It’s an announcement that takes us by surprise and breaks into our darkness.
That’s what the Gospel does. It’s a good news declaration for hopeless sinners who’ve lost their way. They are sitting in the dark, waiting to die, and fearful of judgment. “Nevertheless.” To say it another way, “But God…”
The miracle of Christmas is God breaking through our deep darkness with the light of His Son. Isaiah speaks of that day. It would have been unbelievable to his audience. In fact, it was. Most of them rejected Isaiah’s message of hope and surrender.
Only a remnant believed. The rest languished in the darkness until the Assyrians came and took them away. If this was a husband’s love letter, you might smile and say, “That’s so sweet.” If it was a love letter written to his serial adulterer spouse, it would take on new meaning. It was. Israel cheated their way into an endless night of darkness.
Nevertheless…there will be no gloom…The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Gospel!
God does not give up on us—but He is not naive. He’s not waiting on us to change or improve. He knows better. He is waiting on us to ask for help and trust Him: the Son who was given. Only a remnant did. Only a remnant still is: the Church.
Christmas is a powerful reminder that God is not afraid of entering our darkness. That’s where He does His best work. Notice where God’s promise begins…
“Galilee of the nations…” The place that suffered the most. It was a dark, remote, unclean place—written off and despised by the rest of Israel. But not by God. He went there first. When Jesus launched his public ministry, Matthew writes:
And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet. -Matthew 4:13–14
The Son of God began His ministry by preaching the Gospel to the rebels of Galilee. He wasn’t repulsed by their darkness—he was drawn to it. Anger, shame, guilt, and pride often drive up deeper into sin and silence our cries for help.
We self medicate, hit the bottle for comfort, or binge on TV to numb our pain. We turn to social media for affirmation or flirt with dangerous relationships to feel alive. We look at porn for excitement or distract ourselves with an online gaming addiction.
But every path away from God takes us further into darkness. And that’s where God comes to rescue us. Are we paying attention to the real message of Christmas?
“Unto us a son is born. Unto us a child is given.” What would this child do for us? He would grow up and trade places with guilty rebels. He would shine the light of His glory into our hearts and step into a darkness much deeper and more agonizing than ours.
That darkness would swallow him. The sun stopped shining when God judged His Son. Covered in that darkness was our substitute, our righteousness, cursed by God.
Jesus walked through the valley of the death shadow, and burst through the other side 3 days later with arms outstretched to sinners sitting in the darkness. Are we looking?