Sermon on Isaiah 9:6, Christmas Eve 2020, "The Christmas Names of Jesus"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Seven centuries before Jesus’ birth, it was a time of failed foreign policies, untrustworthy alliances, threatening armies, and people living in the gloomy shadow of death. Intense war and conflict. Oppressive rule and heavy burdens. Darkness over the land. For all our difficulties, we don’t have half the trouble they faced in ancient Israel, leading up to their exile. However, Isaiah foresaw a light piercing through the darkness of national and political chaos, wars and wicked kings. A great light to break oppression, and joy to shine on the people. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
While our troubles might pale in comparison to Israel’s, we are at least familiar with walking in darkness. Not only is December the darkest month of the year, but a great number of people experience the “holiday blues” or “seasonal affect disorder” or just plain depression around the holidays. Separation from family, painful memories, social distancing or even broken relationships can all fuel a looming sense of darkness. In many ways we long for light. Sometimes it’s just nostalgia or sentimentalism craving an old familiar experience from years gone by, or simply wanting our celebration to seem “cheery and bright”. Sometimes it’s simply the hunger for meaningful and loving human connection. But in ways both simple and deeper, people long for the light. Tonight, we turn our eyes to the True Light that shines in the darkness; the true light coming to everyone in the world (John 1:5, 9).
Isaiah became the proto-Christmas preacher, prophesying: “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These soaring words, and many other sacred prophecies inspired one of the most majestic pieces of music ever written, Handel’s Messiah. It’s one of the most widely performed pieces of Western classical music. Specifically referring to the Messiah, even contemporaries like Beethoven and Mozart considered him a true master composer. While he was composing the famous Hallelujah chorus in 1741, his assistant found him in tears, and Handel said to him “I did think I saw heaven open and saw the very face of God”. Not everyone appreciates classical music and oratorios (I sometimes find it hard to connect with classical vocal music); but I hope that you will take the opportunity this Christmas to at least listen to the 4 minutes of the Messiah called “For Unto Us a Child is Born” . The whole recording of Messiah is 2.5 hours!
Those same words of Isaiah that lifted and inspired that work of musical art that awed even Beethoven and Mozart, still capture the heart and emotion of people all over the world. And tonight, they call out to us 2,700 years later after Isaiah first preached them. Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Tonight, let our hearts be lifted by a meditation on these four Christmas Names of Jesus. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Wonderful Counselor. Isaiah calls the Lord “wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Is. 28:29). To call Jesus Wonderful Counselor is to contrast God’s perfect wisdom to all earthly, human wisdom and counselors. We must not be wise in our own eyes. The wisest men have been humbled by God. Any earthly trophies, monuments, empires, achievements, or other creations of men have all eventually been shattered, broken, or confounded. The wisest of men have been humbled. Jesus’ wisdom, by contrast is unfailing. His wisdom is seen when weakness showed itself as strength, surrender as victory, and that in death was life—all this wisdom was revealed in the cross of Jesus (Oswalt, 247).
All too often our lives are driven purely by human wisdom. Or like Solomon’s foolish son, we gather foolish counselors who are no wiser or more experienced than us, and we gather teachers to tell us what our itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3). How’s it working out for you? Maybe we’ve tried human wisdom and it’s failed us. Maybe we’re testing it out right now, and the results aren’t in yet. Or maybe we should just listen to the ancient wisdom of God, and seek the Lord, wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. But be prepared because His wisdom unfolds in the humility and sacrifice of the cross. His wisdom unfolds in a wonderful way that astonishes the crowds (Isaiah 52:13-53:1). His wisdom is very different from how the world would teach or guide us. It leads us to humility and sacrifice and service. Not what earthly wisdom finds. A whole book of wisdom—Proverbs—has been given us in the Bible, that explores the theme “trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not your own understanding”.
Mighty God. The child who is born, the Son who is given to us is called Mighty God. When God is called “mighty” in the OT, it’s often talking about His outstretched arm, His “might” to save and rescue His people. God is strong, fully equipped, and ready to deliver His people from the evil forces marshaled against them. Mighty in battle against the foes of sin, death, and the devil. Mighty over all circumstances.
But a child born in a manger is a pretty unassuming disguise for so grand a title as Mighty God. Did Mary and Joseph ponder on these Christmas names of Jesus when they looked at their child, helplessly small, so dependent on them for nursing and diapers, for safety and protection? The child Jesus, who would need to be hustled away to Egypt, the land of Israel’s ancient slavery, to escape Herod’s dreaded violence? Yet here, wrapped snugly in that bundle of swaddling clothes, was Mighty God, born to deliver His people from the mightiest chains of slavery that bound them in darkness. Some 33 years later, Mary would witness Him bound up with the crushing stone of sin upon His back, spiritual chains which no one could be expected to break…crucified, and by all appearances crushed and defeated under the weight of the sin of the world. But against impossible circumstances, dead under the weight of sin, Mighty God Jesus Christ stood up from death and rose to life again. He cast off that burdensome stone and broke those chains forever. He truly bore the weight of sin without crumbling under it. All this Mighty God was wrapped up in the child born to us, the son given to us in the manger.
Everlasting Father. This is perhaps the most puzzling Christmas name of Jesus. Of course, God is Father and Jesus is Son…so why would the child and son born to us be called “Everlasting Father?” While I may not be able to give a satisfactory explanation, there are a few hints of Jesus being described in a fatherly way. Obviously, He had no earthly children, but Isaiah prophesied about Jesus’ death and resurrection, that He would live to “see His offspring” (Is. 53:10) even after His death. Jesus’ offspring are His spiritual children, those given the right to become “children of God” by believing in Jesus’ name (John 1:11-13). Later, as Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure, He promised that He would “not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). Also, Jesus deals with us in a fatherly way, showing compassion and mercy on the sinful, and forgiving their sins (Psalm 103:10-14).
In these ways we can speak of Jesus as Everlasting Father. A true Father to the fatherless, who will not leave us as orphans. Father of spiritual offspring: all who believe in His name are children of God. He forgives us like a father and understands our weakness. He walked in the flesh Himself. How desperately our world needs the Everlasting Father! One who does not abandon us, One who loves us so tenderly, and with strength to protect and embolden us, not to harm us or frighten us. The true Father where earthly fathers are missing, and Who excels in all ways we human fathers have fallen short. And everlasting, He is not a temporary foster father but permanently adopts us as His children.
Finally, the climactic Christmas name or title for Jesus is Prince of Peace. Hope for a warring and conflicted people. Conflicted with ourselves, conflicted with the world around us. Struggling against God’s ways, struggling against each other, struggling with our selfish flesh that does not know peace. Ever searching for peace, but unable to find it ourselves. The Prince of Peace must first enter our chaos, and fight against all the disordered sinning and broken pieces of our life. The Prince of Peace must walk into the situations of life that seem past all repair, and show that true Shalom, God’s wholeness and wellness of life, soul and body, is found in Him. Life is healed and repaired in Him. Restoration and reconciliation are found in Him.
He entered the conflict of a warring people. He became the casualty of that war. But where wars and catastrophes are measured by body counts in the hundreds, or thousands, here the body count is just one. One Prince of Peace, to die for the sins of the people. One Perfect substitute for all the sins of the world. Jesus, Prince of Peace, stood in the gap of the hostility, between our sins and God’s righteous law, demanding death for sin. By breaking down that dividing wall of hostility, Jesus Himself has become our Peace (Ephesians 2:14). The way to Peace with God and with each other, is through Him. In forgiveness, in His reconciliation and forgiveness at the heart of His church’s mission.
This Christmas, we once again turn our hopes to the child and son that is born to us. We call Him Wonderful Counselor because His wisdom surpasses the world’s. We call Him Mighty God because His outstretched arm is powerful to save. We call Him, Everlasting Father because we’re His spiritual children. He loves us and never forsakes us. We call Him Prince of Peace because He rules over the chaos and sin of this broken world, and by His cross He brings order, repair, healing, forgiveness, and peace with God. In Him we know all these gifts of God, and we praise Him by these Christmas Names. Rejoice, for He is our Light in the darkness!