“The yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, the rod of their oppressor, you have smashed as on the day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:4)
Dunkirk, Pearl Harbour, 9/11..Just to say these names evokes a flurry of poignant memories and sadness. They remind us of key moments of defeat and destruction in the history of the civilized world. But they also evoke memories of nations rising from the ashes of defeat to a glorious re-awakening.
Just the same evocation would have been aroused by the prophet Isaiah’s mention of the “Day of Midian.” People would automatically recall the events recorded in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, chapters 6 and 7. There, the nation of Israel was being terribly oppressed by the army of Midian, as they sought to establish themselves in the Promised Land. At the lowest moment of Israel’s fortunes, the angel of the Lord turns up at the door of a certain Gideon, who describes his clan as the least of the tribe of Manasseh, and himself as the weakest member of that clan, and the angel commissions Gideon to rise up and defeat Midian. How can that possibly happen? “Because the Lord will be with you”, the angel replies, and, incredibly, miraculously, Gideon does arise and, with an army of only 300, defeats his enemy, many hundreds of thousands strong.
The prophet Isaiah is addressing a people in the north of Israel, who had known wave after wave of invasion and destruction. In fact, just before Isaiah writes, the mighty nation of Assyria had invaded northern Israel and taken captive the tribes in that area. But it is precisely at the lowest point of the people’s fortunes that God promises a Savior to come and rescue them from their oppressor. When the gospel of Matthew this Sunday tells us that it is precisely in this area of Israel that Jesus chooses to base his headquarters and begin his ministry of healing and deliverance, it is telling us that Jesus is the Savior promised by God. However, he recognizes that the true oppression over the people is the oppression of sin, with the devil as the prime instigator of evil. If the people are truly to be set free, the power of Satan, sin and death must be broken.
This is what Jesus will bring about by his own death and resurrection. The coming of Jesus into the world, his incarnation as a human being, announces the arising of the human race out of its desperate situation of bondage to Satan, sin and death. In his human body, Jesus will break the power of these oppressors and make a new beginning for humanity. This is the good news which the Christmas event announces, and which the Easter event will bring about finally and forever. You and I are proclaimers of this good news, sent out into the world to call others to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” How can we possibly transform the world by our proclamation, weak and pitifully small as we are? “Because the Lord will be with us!!”