March 28, 2016
Monday of the Third Week of Great Lent
Reading at Sixth Hour – Isaiah 8:13-9:7, especially 9:1: “O . . . people who walk in darkness, behold a great light; and you who dwell in the country of the shadow of death, upon you a light will shine.”
Simeon, who held the Christ child, knew the joy of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Light for all nations and the “Consolation of Israel.” However, Isaiah’s prophecy also addresses the dangers of turning away from the light that shines in the face of Christ and embracing the darkness of this fallen world. In this reading Isaiah teaches us how to guard against apostasy, remaining wary of signs and actions that move us away from truth, life, and salvation, so that we may follow his prophetic message!
In the verse that precedes this passage, the Lord encourages Isaiah: “Do not be afraid of their terror, nor be troubled” (Is 8:12). The Lord here refers to the dread reigning among the people of Judah as the Assyrian empire relentlessly crowded in upon them. Isaiah’s response is straightforward: “Sanctify the Lord Himself, and He shall be your fear” (Is 8:13). Wise advice for every believer!
God speaks two words through His prophet, first encouraging Isaiah – and His devout followers in every age – and then issuing a warning to the apostate majority in Judah and anyone who turns away from God. We hear Christ Himself speaking here to “the children God gave me” (vs. 18), reminding us that He is “a sanctuary” (vs. 14). He alerts us that He rejects apostasy: “I shall wait for God who turned His face away from the house of Jacob, and I will trust in Him” (vs. 17). Remaining faithful to the truth in Christ “will be for signs and wonders” (vs. 18), but condemnation awaits anyone who apostatizes.
Sadly, many members of “the house of Jacob” refused to embrace true knowledge of God, finding Him to be instead “a stumbling stone . . . a rock of disaster” (vs. 14). Thus the majority of God’s ancient people were unable to sustain themselves when faced with the threat of foreign imperial armies. No wonder Isaiah predicts that “therefore many among them shall be powerless and fall, and be broken, and men who are in safety shall draw near and be conquered” (vs. 15).
The apostates near Isaiah propose that he should “seek those who call from the earth and are ventriloquists, who speak from the belly” (vs. 19). Apostasy often leads us to accept the occult and demonic, and to rely upon the evil powers that underlie such practices. Heed Isaiah’s warning: “They shall look up to heaven above, and on the earth below, and behold tribulation, distress, and darkness. There will be severe despair and darkness” (vss. 21-22).
Yet there is also great hope in Isaiah’s prophecy, most explicitly in his mention of the “country of Zebulun, land of Naphtali” (vs. 9:1), the northern and eastern tribal lands of ancient Israel. After the Assyrians deported many of the inhabitants, this region was repopulated by pagan Gentiles. The people of that tragic land chose to “walk in darkness,” but they shall one day “behold a great light” (vs. 1). Yes, Christ fulfilled God’s promise, for even in this region that lives under “the shadow of death, upon you a light will shine” (vs. 1).
Let us consider the gift that we ourselves have received in Christ our God. We know the One whom Isaiah foresaw, the true Light of the world. Like Simeon, “we have seen that true light . . . we have found the true faith . . . for He hath saved us!” (post-communion hymn). Christ has come to illuminate the earth in all its darkness: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. His name will be called the Angel of Great Counsel” (vs. 5). If we hold fast to the Kingdom of Christ, we will be “as those who rejoice in harvest” (vs. 2). God promises!
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath given rise to the light of knowledge in the world, for they that worshiped the stars did learn therefrom to worship Thee, O Sun of justice! – Troparion of the Nativity