But 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 shined … 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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9.1-2, 6-7.
The Galilee of Jesus day was the territory north of Samaria that in the days of the settlement of Canaan had been occupied by Zebulun and Naphtali along with Asher and Issachar. In Isaiah’s day, however, that territory had entered a time of darkness. It had been “brought into contempt” by being occupied by the Assyrians, hence its description as “Galilee of the nations” or (as some translations have it) “Galilee of the Gentiles”. Soon that darkness would fall over the whole of Israel, but in the far future, Isaiah sees a new dawn. He sees a great light rising over the horizon and he sees that the first place to catch its rays will be Galilee. But what is this light that shines so gloriously? He looks more closely into its dazzling brightness and sees at its heart a new-born child, a son!
No wonder that, seven centuries later, when Matthew records how Jesus left Nazareth and “went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,” he cannot but add: “so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — 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'” (Matthew 4.13-16). Jesus is the great light; on Galilee did the light first shine. Jesus is the child that was born. Jesus is the Son that was given.
That word “given” strikes me afresh this morning. The coming of Jesus into the world was not just something that happened. He was “given” as the best and highest expression of the Father’s love for the world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16). As the song puts it:
In the stillness of the night
when the world was asleep,
the almighty Word leapt out.
He came to Mary, He came to us;
Christ came to the land of Galilee;
Christ our Lord and our King!
O what a gift! what a wonderful gift!
Who can tell the wonders of the Lord?
Let us open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts;
it is Christ the Lord, it is He!
The light that Isaiah saw dawning over a world that lay far into his future … the son that he saw being given … was indeed Jesus. And Isaiah saw four great truths about him; truths that I want to look at more closely tomorrow and perhaps the day after that. But for now I just want to say: Thank you, Father, for your gift of love. Thank you for sending Jesus to be my Light and my Life. Amen.