Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:1-2 (NIV)
When I visited Israel just over ten years ago, the first days of our journey were in and around Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a big city, and it has all the hustle and bustle of a big city. When you layer the never-ending religious tension between Christians, Jews, and Muslims on top of the din of activity, it is a fascinating experience. If found that my guard was always up in Jerusalem. I felt that I always had to be aware of my surroundings. I don’t know that I ever felt relaxed.
Several days later we headed north, to the region of Galilee. There was something in the transition from Jerusalem to Galilee that felt very natural. It was like leaving downtown Chicago and finding yourself in the farms and fields of Illinois and Iowa. I stood on Mt. Arbel and looked out over the fields sprawled around the Sea of Galilee (see featured image). Small towns and villages dot the landscape. Farming and fishing are the livelihoods in what Jerusalem residents surely consider the “backwater” area of the nation. Israel’s version of “flyover country.” And, I felt right at home.
Even nominal church attenders who make an annual pilgrimage on Christmas would recognize a couple of the verses the prophet Isaiah penned in today’s chapter. One is pasted at the top of this post. The other is:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
What I had never connected before, is that Isaiah calls out that this Light that will shine, the child that is born, will honor Galilee. It wasn’t going to be in the hubbub of Jerusalem and the center of the region’s worldly power. The Messiah would bless the simple folks scratching out a living from the land and the water far from the pomp and prestige of civic and religious authority. It was of Nazareth, in Galilee, that Jesus’ own disciple sarcastically asked, “Does anything good come from there?“
There’s a sentiment that every child of Iowa knows.
This morning I’m thinking about life in flyover country. I’m thinking about my small town, filled with good people who live in concert with the land and the seasons. I live in a place that generally brings up vague, usually incorrect, notions from the people you talk to on the streets of New York or Los Angeles.
“Iowa? Oh yeah. With all the potatoes.” [No, that’s Idaho.]
“Iowa? I heard of it.” [Nice. You still remember 2nd grade geography!]
“Iowa? I had a great Aunt that was from there.” [But, you still couldn’t find it on a map, could you?]
This morning I’m taking solace in the fact that the Messiah came from a place like Iowa. He grew up working with his hands in the trades. He knew small town people scratching out a living from the land, living in concert with the seasons of planting and harvesting. It was here in flyover country where God wanted Jesus to be raised. I get it. We grow good kids here, as well as crops.