Isaiah unpacks the greatest gift the world has ever had.
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Christmas Eve 2018. Isaiah 9:6
I’ve had trouble getting in the Christmas spirit this year. A big surgery two weeks ago kinda put the damper on things. I wish I could sit back and enjoy Christmas, but I don’t feel well physically. As I’ve aged, presents hold less appeal for me, too. I’ve started to think, maybe now that I’m an adult, Christmas isn’t really for me. It’s for the kids. It’s for the homeless. It’s for people who don’t have so much to do, or have enough money to get really cool gifts. But it isn’t for me, a middle-aged responsible adult.
As I’ve prepared this message this week, I realize I’m wrong. I don’t know about presents or “the spirit of Christmas,” but the meaning of Christmas is for me. It is for you too. For all of us. The central thing we Christians celebrate at this time of year is the gift of God’s presence in our lives. And that is for me, not just kids or others. And it really is for us, at all times.
Many years ago, centuries before Jesus was even born, Isaiah, prophesying by the Holy Spirit, described several key components of God’s present to us – Jesus Christ. He wrote this:
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. (Isaiah 9:6)
The first thing we ought to note from this passage is that the child is born “to us” and given “to us.” God did not come to earth for any other reason than our benefit. Jesus did not come for himself, nor for “someone else” but to us. Soren Kierkegaard, the famous Danish existentialist, always encouraged people to read the Bible as if it were a personal message for them.
“When you read God’s Word, in everything you read, continually say to yourself: It is I to whom it is speaking, it is I about whom it is speaking…”
So when we read this passage from Isaiah, the words “to us” are not a mistake. The son was born to us he was given, to us – the message is for us. Jesus is not an abstraction that exist for those “other people” – he was not just given to Jews or to those really “spiritual” people. He was given for you and for me. This is an important signal, a reminder for those who read Isaiah 9:6 that it is relevant. The prophecy is not just a fascinating historical event, that was fulfilled two thousand years ago – it is relevant to us in our time, our situations, our individual lives. Christmas is for you. It continues even in these days.
So what exactly is this relevant message?
The government will be on his shoulders. I grew up in a third world country, where the government was frequently entertaining, but never very efficient. I remember as a youth of twelve, getting off of a plane in L.A., touching US soil for the first time in several years. We were to be here for three months. As the car drove smoothly down the empty, early morning freeway, I thought to myself, “Wow, we’re in America. The government really works here.” I suppose it was primarily the absence of potholes on the freeway that inspired that thought. Since that time, of course, I have become as cynical as the next person about the American government. I don’t want to get sidetracked, but it has been a very long time since I’ve had any confidence that the United States government really operates to the benefit of most of the citizens. Of course, the New Guinean government was worse. For those of you who think you might emigrate if it gets really bad, where would you go? You think anywhere is else is better?
Truthfully, no earthly government is perfect. However, Isaiah tells us that this child, the one given to us, is the one who is ultimately responsible for everything. The fate of the world rests on his shoulders, not on any government or official.
Our hope is not in our government, or any earthly government – our hope in Jesus. When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus about government (as a governor, it was topic that interested him) Jesus responded that his (Jesus’) kingdom is not of this world. In other words, Jesus is not interested in establishing physical ruler-ship of the world at this time – in spite of the fact that the Jehovah’s witness cult says he is. He is concerned with the government of our souls, lives and our eternal future. Whom we pay taxes to is not generally his concern, other than that he wants us to obey the laws of the lands where we live. The Bible does say that there will come a day when Jesus will return and then he will rule the world as King might. However, the time and circumstances of that are not our concern. We can simply put our trust in him, as one finally responsible for what happens. I know earthly government frustrates us sometimes, but we need to take longer view, an eternal perspective on government.
Now this child, this one given to us, the one who bears the weight of the world on his shoulders, has been given several significant names. First, he is called wonderful. In many translations it says “wonderful counselor” but the Hebrew is probably more like “wonderful – comma – counselor.” In other words, they are two separate descriptions of Jesus. Another way to say “wonderful” might be “miracle-full.” Jesus, when he lived on earth, was certainly wonderful in this sense. Many signs and wonders accompanied his birth – the star, the angels, the wise men and so on. He did many signs and wonders during his ministry – turning water into wine, healing people, driving out demons, walking on water. And because he is given to us as well, he wants to continue to work wonders in our lives – reconciling and restoring relationships, healing us and even doing more supernatural miracles as well.
Next, he is the counselor. Counselor has two major implications of course. It can refer to someone who helps another with inner healing, and also to someone who gives counsel, or advice. Jesus does both. Sometimes we might have struggles in relationships, or a question about how to handle a situation. Sometimes in our small groups, our temptation is to try and counsel each other – but Jesus is the real counselor. Our real job is simply to connect people with Jesus and His counsel. He has the wisdom of God. He stands close by, supporting, listening, encouraging, as good counselor would. If we are honest with ourselves and with him, he can lead us into inner healing, both directly, and through other believers. Another connotation of “counselor” is “comforter.” Jesus offers us comfort as a counselor – he is there to love us and support us in time of need.
Mighty God. I think that this name of Jesus is put as the third of the five names for a reason. It stands, alone, in the center of the other four. The other four all point to it. It is, in fact – wait for it – chiastic structure. Jesus is not just some benign, divine uncle, simply there to our beck and call. He is God. There is an allegiance that his existence demands on our lives. Yes, he wants to work miracles for us, yes he wants to be our comforting counselor, but also, he is our God. He wants to be our ruler. He is not under our control – but he seeks for us to joyfully submit to His control. At the heart of the truth about this child is the fact that the God of the universe did come himself to be with us. Christmas, and this child, is about God’s presence in our lives, and His desire to bring us into a relationship with Him, and to become King of our lives.
Everlasting Father. This is interesting. Isaiah is anticipating the birth of a child that hasn’t even been conceived yet, and he calls this baby a “father.” I think there are several things going on here. First, this is a clear prophecy that the messiah will be God himself in human flesh. Only God was known as “everlasting father.” Isaiah is saying, this child, born to us, will be more than human. He will be eternal God come into the world. Second, fatherhood in those days was significant because it had to do with inheritance. All that your father owned was yours also, even before his death. Isaiah tells us that this “eternal father” is born to us. Through Jesus we gain an eternal inheritance that will never fade or spoil. Third, through Jesus, we get the perfection of fatherhood. Fatherhood is essential to the development of children. An absent or negative father can derail a child for life. A positive and present father goes a long way toward giving the child what he/she needs to succeed in life. In this country we are in a crisis of fatherhood. Many fathers are negative or even absent altogether. Yet here, the promise is that this Christ-child will make up for what our earthly fathers lacked. He can and will fill that most essential void in our lives and even in the lives of our children. He will treat us like a good father should – He wants to be present in our lives, giving us affection and support, protection and guidance.
Prince of Peace. “Shalom” is the Hebrew word for peace. It does not just mean absence of war or “inner calmness” – it means, wholeness, wellness, harmony. At the heart of Jesus’ peace is reconciliation with God. Without this reconciliation with God, all the inner calmness in the world is pointless. Through Jesus, through the child, we can have this peace with God, and the wellness, wholeness and harmony that come with it.
I want to return to the part that I skimmed over before: unto us a son is given.
In ancient Israel, it was tremendously important to people that they have a son to carry on the family name. They saw themselves as belonging to God in groups of families, clans, tribes and then as a nation. If you didn’t have a son, your name would die out, and be remembered no more among the people of God. Therefore, this promise of a son would have meant to those first listeners that they would always have a place in the kingdom of God. This promise of a son meant that they would always belong to God. It means the same thing today. “The Son,” is Jesus, and through him we will belong to God eternally. As the apostle John wrote:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13
There is a story told about a man who came home from work one evening, tired and worn out, simply wanting to relax. As he collapsed into the easy chair with the newspaper, his young son came up to him, wanting to his attention. The father, unable to muster up much energy, found a picture of the world in his newspaper, and tore it up into small pieces. He gave the pieces to his son and said, “Here’s a puzzle for you do. See if you can put the world back together.” He knew this would occupy his boy for quite some time, since the child did not know his world geography very well. However in just a few minutes, the boy came back with the puzzle completed, all the countries in the right places
“How did you do that so quickly?” asked the father, amazed.
“It was easy!” replied the boy. “On the back side of the paper was a picture of a child. As soon as I got the child right, the whole world was right.”
That’s sort of how it is with Jesus. When we get THE CHILD right, our world becomes whole again.
Will you receive the promise of a son this year? Will you receive this child, who rules the universe, the wonderful counselor, everlasting father, mighty God, Prince of peace?