by Father Mike Stubbs
When I look at the photo of a newborn child, it can be hard for me to identify him or her. They all look alike to me.
If I have only a verbal description to go by, the task becomes even harder. But that is what is given us in the first reading for Christmas Midnight Mass, Is 9: 1-6: “a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulders dominion rests. They name him WonderCounselor; GodHero, FatherForever, Prince of Peace.”
Biblical scholars continue to argue over the identity of the child mentioned in this prophecy of Isaiah. Many believe that these words originally referred to Hezekiah, the king of Judah (715-687 B.C.). When he was born, people had high hopes for him. But those hopes were not fulfilled.
It was necessary to reinterpret those words of the prophet to apply to someone in the more distant future. That “someone” was the long-awaited Messiah.
As Christians, we identify Jesus Christ as this child of high hopes mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy. That is why we draw upon that prophecy for the first reading for Christmas Midnight Mass.
During the reign of King Hezekiah, the kingdom of Judah fell under the shadow of the Assyrian empire and became a vassal state. For an idea of what that might entail, think of the relationship of countries behind the Iron Curtain to the Soviet Union, when communism dominated that area of the world. Consequently, “the people who walked in darkness” referred to the Israelites living under the domination of the Assyrians. The “yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster” referred to the Israelite subjection to the Assyrians. A passage in the next chapter makes that identification clear: “Woe to Assyria! My rod in anger, my staff in wrath” (Is 10:5).
With the child of Isaiah’s prophecy recast as the Christ Child, these other parts of the prophecy also receive new meaning. Accordingly, the darkness that the people walk in refers to the spiritual darkness of sin. The yoke and rod refer to the spiritual bondage imposed by sin. Jesus Christ frees us from this. That is why he was born.
As we wait in the darkness of Christmas Eve, we look forward to the light of God’s grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ, whose birth we commemorate. We have reason to rejoice, that God’s promises are fulfilled in him.