It’s Christmas. Thanks for taking time out of your crazy, busy, fun day to spend time in God’s word and read this blog. Another Christmas post today and then back to our regularly scheduled 2 year journey through the Bible tomorrow. Today I want to specifically spend time thinking about just why this baby was such a massive source of hope. Some of you heard me preach on this recently, but it’s worth reminding ourselves again this Christmas day.
READ: Isaiah 9:1-7
THINK: Names are important. They are important to us: we all agonize over giving our kids good names that will have a positive connotation – which is really hard for my family because my wife Jenny is a high school teacher and 9 out of every 10 names in the baby book inspire her to get a grumpy look on her face and say, “No! I had a kid in Geometry with that name and he was horrible!” 🙂 But names are important to us, and they were VERY culturally important to the ancient Hebrews. And because of that – because these titles given to the Son born in this prophecy are such a key source of the hope God was giving to his people – I want to take a look at what they mean this morning:
What does it mean that he is a Wonderful Counselor? The root meanings of these two words are wonder and wisdom. Wonderful Counselor means that he brings a counter-cultural, amazing wisdom to the world. He is coming with a wisdom that confounds the conventional wisdom of our culture because our wisdom has failed.
A couple months ago I was home with my kids and they were playing in the basement while I was trying to get some work done upstairs. And after a short time of peaceful playing I heard yelling and fighting. So, like any great dad, I yelled down the stairs to them with a piece of great wisdom: “Hey, why don’t you guys share the toy!” And then I went back to my work. For about a minute. Then the yelling started back up again so I offered up another piece of revolutionary brilliance: “Hey, just take turns.” And, just in case they didn’t want to listen, I put a little weight behind the advice and said, “Don’t make me come down there.” Those of you who have ever had children will be shocked to hear that 30 seconds later they were fighting again. Their childlike wisdom had failed them. So had the words of wisdom that I sent down the stairs. At some point when the word fails, the word has to become flesh and dwell among us. The only hope was for me to become incarnate in my basement.
What does Wonderful Counselor mean? It’s God’s way of saying to Judah – “I know that things are rough. I know that your king is awful. I know that the wisdom of the world is failing and there is fighting and conflict all around you. But I am coming downstairs! And there is hope because I have a greater wisdom – and I am going to embody it and give humanity a bigger better picture of who you are created and designed and wired and called to be. The Wonderful Counselor is coming with the wisdom you need.”
So what does it mean that he is a Mighty God? This one is such an incredible source of hope! The word for “mighty” in Hebrew is gibbor. Gibbor means hero. The one who is coming to invade the darkness with his light is a hero! He is the mighty champion of his people. He has all the power – the power to end the oppression, the power to overcome the struggle, the power to heal the pain and fix the brokenness, set all things right and make all things new! He is strong where we are weak. He is the hero God!
How about Everlasting Father? Why is it significant that this promised one is an Everlasting Father. The word everlasting is a theological claim. The people of Judah were surrounded by nations that believed in a number of different gods, thought that they had regional power and authority, believed that they were capricious and angry, violent and spiteful towards humanity, and assumed that, like humans, gods could die or be born. When this prophecy claims that the promised one is everlasting it is a bold theological declaration that this God is eternal. He is from the beginning. He has always been and he will always be. He is not some demigod or some member of the pantheon. He is eternal, everlasting, and sovereign. Oh yeah, and he is Father. He doesn’t hate humanity like the pagan gods. Not at all. He created humanity in his image and he invites every person to connect with him in an intimate, loving, protective, grace-filled relationship. He is the Everlasting Father.
And he’s the Prince of Peace. Prince is a governmental function. It is a role in a kingdom. And his kingdom will be defined by Peace. The word for peace here is shalom. Everybody say shalom with me. Shalom. Our English Bibles do a magnificent job of translating the Bible accurately and they are incredibly reliable. But there are just a couple of words and phrases where our language fails to capture the full meaning of a word or phrase because we don’t have a cognate. And limiting shalom to the meaning of the word “peace” in English is like watching TV in black and white – there is so much color too it that’s missing. Shalom is this incredible concept of life being exactly the way it was designed to be. Shalom is full economic, relational, spiritual, and physical flourishing – not just surviving but flourishing! It is this situation of holistic health and fulfillment where nothing is missing and nothing is broken. Shalom will define his Kingdom. That he shall be called the Prince of Peace means that the Promised One was coming not just to deal with our personal problems on the inside but also to eventually make all things new in a Kingdom where there was no more poverty, injustice, violence, war, disease or death.
Why did the nation of Judah need to hear this prophecy 700 years before it would be fulfilled? They were living in darkness and their hope had dried up. They needed to hear about what was coming centuries on down the line because they needed to know that darkness would not have the final word, that death would not write the final chapter in their story. Things were bad and they were only gonna get worse…but there was hope. They needed to hear that there was hope.
I wonder how many of us need to hear that too, on this Christmas day. I suspect, maybe, that the answer is: all of us. That’s the message of Isaiah 9 – for Judah 3 millenia ago and for us today: Hope is alive! In Jesus Christ we can live every moment on the edge of hope. The WonderfulCounselorHeroGodEverlastingFatherPrinceOfShalom literally changes everything! Because the hope that is available in him is a totally different kind of hope – a completely new meaning to the word hope – than the one we are used to. See when we think of hope, most of us go to this place where we define it as passionately wishing something would happen. Hope means holding on to the belief that our dreams might come true. But God is not calling us to hope that something good might happen. In Jesus Christ we can hope with bold confidence! We need to shift our hoping from might to will!
No matter what the situation is in our lives right now, and no matter what happens in the future we have this incredible, unshakable hope that Jesus sets all things right and makes all things new! And we don’t hope that maybe he’ll do it. We live confidently in expectation and anticipation that it will absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt happen. And how do we know? We know the same way Judah knew: Because God promises us it will. The very end of this prophecy, the last line in Isaiah 9:7 is God’s stamp, it is his holy seal, it is his assurance to us – his guarantee – that our hope is secure: he closes by saying, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” The zeal. The passionate determination of the Sovereign God will accomplish it. There is no doubt. It’s as good as done.
That’s Christmas. That’s what it is all about. It is God invading human history, stepping in to the pain, the violence, the hurt, the loss, the death, and the shattered reality of our world to to light up our darkness, to heal up our brokenness, and to bring us confident hope that by his zeal – because of his passionate determination – he will keep his promise to make all things new again. At Christmas, Christ is our hope. Not presents or trees or carols or reindeer. The WonderfulCounselorHeroGodEverlastingFatherPrinceOfShalom allows us to face anything & everything that life throws at us with bold confident outrageous hope.
PRAY: Thank God for giving hope to the human race by taking on flesh and becoming one of us. Thank him for being the Wonderful Counselor. And the Hero God. And the Everlasting Father. And the Prince of Peace. Thank him for Christmas.