|Fra Angelico, The Annunciation
As we have seen in a previous blogpost ("What Child Is This" – 12/12/12) the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, writing in the 8th Century B.C., had a vision of the future redemption of Israel. Isaiah lived during a turbulent time in Israel's history. The nation was in a deep state of religious and moral decline, and was threatened by its powerful northern neighbor, the Assyrian Empire. Finally, in 733 B.C. the axe fell. The Assyrians invaded Israel and carried most of the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity.
As noted earlier, these developments raised profoundly disturbing questions about the problem of evil and the nature of divine justice. If the Jews were God's chosen people, and if God was bound to them by a covenant, then how could He allow a disaster like this to happen? Does this mean that evil finally triumphs? As we have seen from recent tragedies, the question is still with us today.
In one of the earlier chapters of his prophecy Isaiah gives us a picture of the coming Messiah. Referring to the disaster that had befallen the northern tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Napthtali, he declares, "Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed" (Isa. 9:1; NKJV). Significantly, these were the same areas destined to be the scene of much of Jesus' earthly ministry. Nazareth, His boyhood home, was located in what had been the territory of Zebulun; and Capernaum, located on the Sea of Galilee in what was once the territory of Naphtali, was His base of operations for His ministry. In a spiritual sense, the people who lived there in Jesus' day "have seen a great light;/ Those who dwelt in the shadow of death, /Upon them a light has shined" (v. 2)
The immediate context, however, describes a deliverance from the devastation of war. But the question is, when does this take place? And from what follows it becomes evident that what is in view here is not some localized and temporary phenomenon, but something universal and permanent. Isaiah is looking far beyond his own day to something that lies in the distant future. For he goes on to describe a special king, a unique sovereign, who will sit upon the throne of David and rule forever.
Who is this ruler? In a strange, paradoxical way He is both God and man. He comes into the world born as a human child: "For unto us a child is born,/ Unto us a Son is given" (v. 6). Yet He is called "Mighty God" and "Everlasting Father."
What will His rule be like? We are told that "of the increase of His government and peace/ There will be no end," and He will "order it [i.e., His kingdom] and establish it with judgment and justice" (v. 7). "Peace" (Heb. shalom) conveys the idea of a state of rest or equilibrium that results from being whole or complete. "Judgment" (Heb. mishpat) refers to the proper administration of justice. "Justice" (Heb. tsedaqah), which might more properly translated "righteousness," signifies conformity to God's Law. And what does God's law require? "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law . . .Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:8,10).
Is there any real justice in the world? We obviously see little of it today. From Damascus, Syria to Newtown, CT, the world is filled with conflict and violence. Human society is profoundly disordered. If the present world of space and time is all that exists, as some maintain, there is no basis for hope. But the birth of the babe in Bethlehem points to a brighter future. It is God's down payment on His promise to deliver a better tomorrow. Mary's child is destined to usher in an age of peace and justice.