The everyday talk on the street is about how gloomy the current times are. Christmas is all messed up, and normal preparations just aren't happening. Some have reacted by putting out their Christmas lights early, but overall the mood is gloom.
The season of advent is one of waiting - looking for the light even in the darkness. Hence our advent candles lit each Sunday - reminding of God's sure return even as we go through dark and gloomy times. It is not necessary to fill our whole front garden with the most impressive display - a candle added each Sunday will suffice.
The Isaiah 9 passage announces His first coming, introducing the prospect as 'a light shining'. The reading signals a 'change in the times'. It describes people living in darkness, but into that darkness a light comes - all relevant for us today! In verse 2 it says 'those living in deep darkness ... the light has dawned'. For me it is an image of a deep pit, and when the light rises above a certain angle it finally shines into it.
The passage of course points to incredible changes in fortunes: verses 3-5 talk of oppression being lifted, of war turning to peace and so on. Yet it is not just 'bad things got better', like some economic recovery or healthy 'bounce-back' after an unprecedented dip. No - it is more than that. In verse 6 it says 'a child is born, a son is given'. Of course not just any newborn, but a very special son - a son who can be trusted with everything. All of Israel's history points forward to this son, everything from the son's life onwards will be referenced and explained in context of the son.
[As an aside that is why our trust as Christians is always in Christ, giving us a depth much deeper than anything in the world around us. So in the light of corona vaccines arriving - yes we will get vaccinated: but our fundamental trust remains in Christ, not simply in the vaccine.]
The people of Isaiah's time had to wait hundreds of years for this to come about (like 700 years!). Isaiah in this prophetic declaration was calling the people to look up, to lift their eyes up from their gloomy context to God ... to glimpses of His purposes and what He will do. Lets return to verse 2 - that living in a pit of despair: even when the light rises and shines in, someone in the bottom still has to look up to see that light and benefit from it!
So in our times let us remember this same principle. In our times of gloominess it is very easy for the gloom to overwhelm and consume us - to fill our field of view, to seem like unscalable walls such that there seems to be no way out. Yet advent - a time of waiting - calls us to live expectantly, to look up to what God is doing. Remember we are on the other side of that 700 year wait! Now we wait for His return, the Kingdom made complete. Yes we don't know how long that will be, but long or short our calling is to lift our eyes and live expectantly.
The greatest thing those hearers of Isaiah could have done is ask God: okay so how do you want us to live in this time? That too can be our question: asking God 'how are you refining us? what do you want us to do through this gloomy time?'. That is not denial of the difficulties, but is an attitude and inclination to God give that we are in a gloomy time. A choice made to live expectantly, knowing God's purposes have a trajectory, that the result is light rather than dark ... the rsult is being fully in the son, the one already born to us!