In the midst of grave warnings to the people of Israel, regarding their sinfulness and their arrogant pride, comes this ode to the Lord's desire for their redemption, the reading from the Old Testament for midnight Mass, the Mass of the Nativity.
This poem of Isaiah begins with words that echo the opening words of Genesis "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
It then speaks of great joy, as comes to an oppressed people who have won a great victory.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils.
But, over what is this victory? What is this oppression? There is a hint of slavery here, slavery to a conquered nation, like the slavery of the people of Israel to their Egyptian taskmasters.
For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
Instead of the slavery to Egypt, however, Isaiah invokes the memory of the Israelites' slavery to Midian, in the time of the Judge Gideon, when a great battle was won at the sound of a trumpet blast. This poem is clearly both Messianic and Apocalyptic. It also recalls the fact that only 300 soldiers of Israel were enough to defeat a Midianite army of thousands, because they had the Lord on their side. Because they delivered their hearts and minds to the Lord, the Lord delivered the enemy into their hands. Isaiah wants to remind the people here that their hope lies not in political alliances, but in trust in the Lord.
The poem continues with words about the end of war itself, the final reign of peace.
For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames.
That final reign of peace will come because the Prince of Peace will be born.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
Recalling the dominion of King David, Isaiah prophesies a time when an even greater kingdom will be established, a kingdom that will bring a just and lasting peace, a kingdom that will last forever.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from Davidâ€™s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.
How will this happen? What can possibly break through the persistent chains of human folly, greed and arrogance? What kind of determination will overcome ignorance, lies, corruption and chaos? What can strengthen and multiply the armies of the meek and righteous? What power is great enough to conquer the ruler of this world, Satan?
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!
This is the promise of the Christ Child. This is the promise of Christmas.