The People Walking in Darkness

Today's devotion from Isaiah 9.

When I get permission to begin celebrating Christmas there are two things that happen in my office that officially signal the launch of the season. First, I like to burn candles while I work in my office. There is something about the scent and the flame that help me to focus. When it is sufficiently close to the holidays, I begin burning a candle that smells like a Christmas tree. Second, my daily soundtrack begins to rotate from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and Handel's Messiah. I have one hangup, and that has to do with the performance of The Messiah.

My preferred version of Messiah comes from the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. I like their tempo and instrumental mix. However, I have to hunt for the right recording, because several do not include one of my favorite pieces, The People That Walked in Darkness.

This piece presents Isaiah 9:2, and it is truly breathtaking. It begins stark, brooding, and almost menacing. Yet, as the words transition from walking in darkness to seeing a great light, the mood changes. It becomes almost optimistic and cheery before falling back into the despair brought on by the imposing and consuming darkness. When the source of Isaiah 9 is considered, the tension created in this aria is truly masterful.

This is precisely what I love about Christmas. Regardless of the pervading darkness that surrounds us, the Light has pierced its veil. This piece becomes, in some ways, the watershed of the performance. From this point, the tone of The Messiah changes for me. The songs are no longer about a hope, but the awe of His work in fulfilling that hope. Most people think of the Hallelujah Chorus when they think of The Messiah. I like it, too. But for me, it looses its power when divorced from the reality of those people walking in darkness.

Even here, when the people were on the brink of both Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, God promised that no matter how oppressive the darkness seemed, a great light would dawn. When you feel hemmed in by the darkness, remember the words of John, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7, CSB) And shout, "Hallelujah!"