Dack Van Orden lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church and currently serves in the High Council as the Young Men’s President.

Enter Dack…

As we understand the “place” where those we meet and serve may be standing, we are better able be relational and more open to inspiration. Thus, let me share and example that is timely for the Christmas season and throughout the year.

In verse 6 of Chapter 9 of the Book of Isaiah. Most of us recognize this verse from Handel’s Messiah. It is of interesting note that Handel’s Messiah was originally offered as an Easter performance. This parallels verse 6 as only the opening line speaks of the birth of Christ whereas the remainder of the verse speaks of the millennial titles of Christ.

“For Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Walking in Darkness

If you will, I would like you to turn your focus to the first two verses of chapter 9 where Isaiah sets up verse 6 by speaking of the land of inheritance of two tribes of Israel Zebulon and Naphtali. When the children of Israel came into the promise land, a portion of that land was divided up and given to each of the 12 tribes. If you were to look in your bible maps you would notice that the land given to Zebulon and Naphtali was in the northern part of the land of Israel up around the Northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. This land is a very interesting part of the Holy Land, very different from the rest of that area for several reasons.

For one reason, it is very geologically different. Most of the Holy Land is made of an off-white lime stone. However this area is covered with a black volcanic basalt, spread all over this region by several now-extinct volcanos. This black stone casts a dark shadow across the land. People would even build their homes out of this black stone. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a home made of black walls? It would not be a place you would want to go home to if you were having a bad day!

As we read verse two, we now come to understand that these people literally walked in darkness.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Another way this land is different is topographically. Most of the Holy Land is very steep and rugged, but this area tends to level out and become more flat. The area therefore becomes a heavily traveled route between the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Consequently because all of those roads converged on this one area of land it became a prime military target.

If you could control that crossroad, you could control all the commerce, trade and communication between Mesopotamia and Egypt. As a result of this area being so strategically important it was constantly being fought over and the inhabitants there were constantly being conquered. In most cases, anytime the Holy Land was invaded, the invasion point was this area. It was where the Babylonians attack, it’s where the Greeks come, where the Romans come, where Napoleon came, and where the British came. The people of this area were conquered and see so much warfare that they referred to by Isaiah here in verse 2 as the people who live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Seeing A Great Light

With that backdrop let’s review verse 2 of chapter 9. It states that the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. This begs the question, what is this great light? Or better yet, WHO is this great light? We know who this Light is. Christ is the Light. These verses become a great prophesy of where Christ would serve in his mortal ministry. If you go back to your Bible maps you will notice there are some interesting cities in this land. Some of the names you will see are Nazareth, Cana and Capernaum. In fact, most of the Savior’s mortal ministry was spent in this area, which in his day was called Galilee.

We can view this verse in two ways, in one way, we see that this is a great prophesy about where Christ will serve. We can also see that Christ will be source of light and peace to those who walk in darkness and live in the land of the Shadow of Death. Abinadi, a Book of Mormon prophet, speaking of Christ, declared,

“He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea and also a life which is endless that there can be no more death.”

Breaking Free of Burdens and Oppressions

Continuing in verse 4 of Isaiah, it states, that Christ will break the yoke of our burdens and the rod of our oppressors. We all face burdens and oppressors throughout our lives. We may be facing the pain of losing a loved one, or the hurt of a wayward child. A father might be out of work and desperately trying to find a way to provide for his family. I don’t know what things may be troubling you personally, but, even knowing how terrific you are and how faithfully you are living, I would be surprised if someone somewhere wasn’t troubled by a transgression or at least the temptation of transgression.

Nothing in this world is more burdensome than sin—it is the heaviest cross men and women ever bear. We may feel as though we are literally living in darkness and traveling through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We may be crying out,

“Oh God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place. How long shall thy hand be stayed?”

Everlasting Peace

No matter the depth of our sorrow and pain, Christ can be our source of peace. I am speaking of a real peace, a lasting peace. This is not a superficial peace that the world would give us, one that is won at a negotiating table or at after a battle, but an everlasting peace. He stands before us with open arms always inviting, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, learn of me, and I will give rest unto your souls”. Peace will come to all those who seek out the Prince of Peace. Peace will come to those that mourn. Peace will come to those that chose to walk in the paths of the Master. He will encircle us in the arms of his righteousness. Peace will come to your soul as you build your faith in the Prince of Peace. Even as he moved toward the pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary, the Savior promised his Apostles, and each one of us,

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”

Listen to this wonderful passage from President George Q. Cannon teaching precisely this very doctrine that Jeffery R. Holland reminded us of in his April 2016 conference talk:

“No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character [to do so]. He is an unchangeable being; the same yesterday, the same today, and He will be the same throughout the eternal ages to come. We have found that God. We have made Him our friend, by obeying His Gospel; and He will stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep His commandments”.

Join Christ’s Efforts of Peace

Once we have come unto Christ and found the miracle of his “covenant of peace,” I think we are under obligation to help others do so. As disciples of Christ, it should be our desire to help others feel of this lasting peace and the reassurance the Savior can bring. We should strive to be peace makers in our community, work places and especially in our homes and families. As we do this, people we will feel the love and the light of the Savior through us. They will be drawn to that light. They will be drawn to Him. I would ask you now to help with this healing, healing for others, healing for those you love and serve and, yes, perhaps especially for those that are more challenging to love. The people around us need a lot of help, and I think the Lord expects us to join in that effort.

I invite you to be a healer, be a helper, be someone who joins in the work of Christ in lifting burdens, in making the load lighter, in making things better. As children, when we had a bump or a bruise, didn’t we say to Mom or Dad, “Make it better”? Well, lots of people on your right hand and on your left are carrying bumps and bruises that they hope will be healed and made whole. Someone you know is carrying a spiritual or physical or emotional burden of some sort, or some other affliction drawn from life’s catalog of a thousand kinds of sorrow. In the spirit of Christ’s first invitation to his twelve Apostles, jump into this work. Help people. Heal old wounds and try to make things better.

Keep Our Eyes Fixed on Christ

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is his true and living Church. He wishes us to come unto him, to follow him, to be comforted by him. Then he wishes us to give comfort to others. However halting our steps are toward him—though they shouldn’t be halting at all—his steps are never halting toward us. May we have enough faith to accept the goodness of God and the mercy of his Only Begotten Son. May we come unto Him and His gospel and be healed. And may we do more to heal others in the process. When the storms of life make this difficult, may we still follow his bidding to “come,” keeping our eye fixed on him forever and single to his glory. In doing so we too will walk triumphantly over the swelling waves of life’s difficulties and remain unterrified amid any rising winds of despair.

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