When Owen and Caroline Williams moved into their home in 2015, they quickly befriended their next door neighbor, an elderly widower named Ken Watson. When their daughter, Cadi, came along the next year, Ken doted on her as if she were his own granddaughter.
Ken passed away in October of 2018 when little Cadi was only two years old. A few days after his death, Ken’s daughter stopped by the Williams home with a large bag filled with Christmas presents for Cadi. As Ken’s daughter was going through his things, she found a stockpile of Christmas presents Ken had already bought and wrapped for Cadi. In anticipation of his impending death, Ken went ahead and bought enough presents for Cadi to have one gift from him every year until she became a teenager.
Prior to his passing, this 87-year-old widower wanted to make sure that little Cadi would have these yearly reminders that she is loved. Like all gifts, Ken Watson’s presents to little Cadi are expressions of pure grace — not something she has earned or deserved, but something given out of love.
There is a reason stories like this resonate so deeply in our hearts. They confirm what we know to be true at the soul level: we stand in need of grace. And the Scriptures tell us that God is a giver like this. James says that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17). The Heavenly Father lavishes His children with gifts that are good and perfect and eternal.
And in Isaiah 9, we learn about the greatest gift God has ever given the world.
Isaiah lives through some very trying days in the land of Judah. At the time that we read about in Isaiah 9, Assyria is the dominant superpower in the ancient world and the Assyrian army has begun to invade the land of Judah. As you can imagine, the people of Jerusalem are gripped by fear. Every day they hear of another city falling as this enemy army makes its way to Jerusalem.
And so Isaiah comes to the people with this word from God:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone.Isaiah 9:2
The present situation in Judah is described as darkness. The people probably thought, “Yeah, that sounds about right. The most fearsome army in the world is marching to our doorstep.” But Isaiah looks past all of this darkness to see a great light on the horizon. He calls the people to see not just with physical eyes but with spiritual eyes.
With physical eyes, all you’ll see is the darkness; but with spiritual eyes, there is always a light.
And Isaiah uses a technique here that scholars refer to as the prophetic perfect. You see this in several places in biblical prophecy. This is when the prophet describes future events in the past tense as if they’ve already happened. So he says, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light…on them a light has shone. Those are past tense verbs, even though he’s describing something that hasn’t happened yet in his day.
It’s as if Isaiah is so confident that these events are going to happen that he describes them as if they’ve already happened.
This is one of God’s great gifts to us — the gift of hope.