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 4:16
Here we are, it’s that time of the year again. We are beginning to notice the streets that we live in, or maybe even our favorite stores, transform overnight in their appearance with decoration, indicating that the Christmas season is upon us. Also in parallel, amidst the admiration of the enthusiasm and spirit around us, a very gentle push in our hearts to remind us of the essence of the season. A diligent effort to decorate our hearts with the glorious purpose behind the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In an attempt to do the same, a passage that has been standing out for me this time around is Matthew 4:13-16.
The passage takes us to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth. This event should have left the Jewish people stunned. “Out of all the places Jesus could decide to start his earthly ministry, he chose the land that was commonly known as, Galilee of the Gentiles?” For context, Zebulun and Naphtali are the tribes that had failed to obey God’s commandment to drive out the pagans amongst them ( Judges 1: 30, 33), to avoid the snare of their pagan deities. At the time of Jesus’ arrival, pagan practices had taken over the land to such an extent that it was labeled off as ‘Land of the gentiles’.
Although it is tempting to go off on a tangent, pondering the sovereignty of God in all this, let us focus on the heart of the text, verse 16: “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light”. The people of the land were dwelling in darkness, and Jesus was the light that dawned. A very common yet vivid reference used to draw the contrast between Good and evil, righteousness and lawlessness; Light and darkness (John 3:19, Ephesians 5:8, Acts 26:18 ). The bible is simply telling us that it was not their desire for pagan gods that had them deemed as ‘people living in darkness’, but the fundamental nature of their hearts that desires only sin. Their practices were but only an outcome of their innate nature.
If we were to take the same principle outside of Galilee, to the rest of the world, absolute darkness is all we would see. Should not the rest of the world be identified as ‘dwelling in darkness’? Much like the tribes at focus here, every one of us by nature desires darkness, we are drawn to it (John 3:19). Until the coming of Christ, all that was in store for us was to be thrown into the outer darkness, where only destruction and despair awaits us (Matthew 23:13). Amidst all this hopelessness, amidst all this darkness, it was the one and true light, Jesus Christ, that dawned by a little manger in Bethlehem that gave us hope. This light would then go on to portray the destruction of darkness by taking our sins upon him at the cross. It was through this pure act of mercy that our mighty light set us free from the sin that ruled over us, the darkness we could never run away from (Romans 6: 6-7, 1 John 1:5-7). Should our hearts not be overflowing with praise and adoration for our savior, as we are reminded of the hope that exists in him?
Therefore beloved, this Christmas season, be it the extravagant lights of the street sides that catch our attention or even those that we meticulously pick out to adorn our own homes, let us all take the time to remind ourselves of the ‘light of the world’ in whose name we celebrate. The light that gave us life.