Anyone familiar with Handel’s Messiah will want to break into song in the middle of this passage: “For unto us a child is bo-oh-oh-oh-oh-on! Unto us, a son is given! . . . . . Wonderful! Counselor! . . .” and so on. We know this passage is about Jesus’s birth, and we know we can sing about it with joy and gusto.
We less often notice that the passage is really about a regime change. The darkness the people have walked in was political, put upon them by an oppressor. They have been working under his yoke, whipped by his rod. The child sets them free from this; his birth is also the occasion of the incineration of the implements of war.
Why has war and oppression reigned? Why has it bent the shoulders of the people? Because it has usurped authority; it has taken hold where it should not be. That is the hidden good news of this passage: darkness and oppression have NO RIGHT; their grip on us is illegitimate. By contrast, the child is the rightful one. We can greet him with shouts of joy not just because he is new and different, or young and energetic, but because he is our rightful ruler. And when he comes we recognize him, as if, without knowing it, we were waiting for him all along.
In the season of Advent we wait in the shadows for the light. Because it is dark we may feel unnerved, disoriented, lost. But the darkness in its own way teaches us about the light. Although we do not know how to lift it ourselves, we know that it is not right that we remain in the darkness. We know we are meant to live another way. And when the light comes, we recognize it. It is the justice and righteousness and endless peace for which we have always yearned.