Isaiah 9:1-7 NRSV
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
This Message included a dialogue between Andy and Ada about the Isaiah passage. We also wrote a name for Jesus or God on candles.
Andy: “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” Oh Ada, these words make me all goose pimply, and I think that Christmas is just around the corner. Oh, I cannot wait to start singing the carols, going to all the parties and nights out. Only 36 days to go Ada!
Ada: Andy, I hate to burst your bubble here but…
Andy: What? Has someone decided to do away with Christmas? Please tell me, Ada, that we are keeping Christmas?
Ada: Of course, we are keeping Christmas Andy! Its all about the reason for the season after all, its all about Jesus.
Andy: Yes, Ada, of course it is all about the “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” Its all about Jesus.
Ada: That’s right, Andy, but those words you used were not always about Jesus.
Andy: What do you mean, Ada, they were not about Jesus? Everything is about Jesus.
Ada: Well, that’s right in a way Andy, everything is about Jesus, but when the prophet Isaiah first wrote them he was not thinking about Jesus, because he was thinking about the current political situation he and his people were facing at that time.
Andy: Oh wait a minute Ada, what are you trying to tell me?
Ada: Well, Andy, one of our famous biblical scholars who writes the bible notes for Spill the Beans tells us about the complex situation Isaiah and his people were facing.
Andy: Oh, come on, it cannot be any worse than we are facing today! What does our Biblical scholar tells us Ada?
Ada: Well, let me quote almost his exact words.
Historically the country we now call Israel, was divided into two kingdoms. Israel was to the north and Judah to the south, Judah included the capital city of Jerusalem. Ten tribes made up the northern part and two the southern. It is in the southern part, Judah, in which Isaiah lives and prophesies. The northern kingdom, Israel, was at this time at war with Assyria and Judah refused to get involved.
Judah was then invaded by Israel so Judah asked help from Assyria (Israel’s enemy) who came to their aid and beat off Israel. To pay for all of this, Ahaz paid the Assyrian king money from Judah’s coffers along with giving him holy items from the temple. He also let the Assyrians build idols in the holy places of Judah.
Andy: Wow, I never knew that. In fact, I am pretty sure, a lot of people here never knew that! What happened next?
Ada: Well, Isaiah was not pleased with what Ahaz had done. He had warned Ahaz earlier not to fear Israel, and instead of getting himself worked up he should seek a sign from God. Ahaz ignored Isaiah’s advice, so Isaiah went ahead and sought a sign from God anyway.
Andy: Go for it, Isaiah!
Ada: So, in the court of Ahaz, there just so happened to be a young woman who was pregnant. Isaiah said that this woman would give birth to a son who would be called Immanuel, which means God is with us, and he would be a “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”
In other words, before this child is born into the world, there could be a better way of living for everyone if they came to God rather than fought each other!
Andy: So, in the end, they all lived happily ever after.
Ada: Not quite, Andy. Ahaz didn’t listen and plunged his country into war. Isaiah was saying God was giving us a way out of conflict, but so often leaders want to show they are strong and powerful, and to be strong and powerful means that they must stand up and fight, even if they know they have no chance of winning.
Andy: Sounds like nothing much has changed in the past couple of thousand years when it comes to our leaders. They see no other way but their own way, and they fail to trust in God to deliver a new way.
Ada: Yes, Ahaz could have seen the child as a sign of peace rather than war.
Andy: So, Ada, is this passage not really about Jesus at all?
Ada: Originally, no it wasn’t Andy! But you can see how the symbol of a child who will bring peace and a new way of living fit Jesus perfectly, and why, when the church looked for signs of the Messiah, they turned to this passage in Isaiah, just as this passage speaks to us today. For with God there is always time to choose a new and better way of living.
Andy: So are you telling me that the world is always going to be in a mess in the hands of the powerful few?
Ada: No, Andy, I am not saying that. I am saying that in every generation we need to look for signs of doing things the way God wants them done, and not to rely on our politicians or world leaders alone being able to fix these problems. Isaiah, and many of the other prophets looked for contemporary signs of where God is active, and used such signs to encourage and help people to see God’s ways could be at work in the world if they chose to listen and follow these signs.
Andy: Ada, you are an amazing woman with lots of wisdom.
Ada: No, Andy, it is God who is wise, and who we are called to follow. Isaiah is just reminding us today of God’s wisdom, grace and mercy. End
Ahaz failed to listen.
A child was of no interest to him.
He felt he needed a warrior so he put all his eggs into Assyria’s basket and became subservient to Assyria, who took their money and replaced their religion with foreign gods.
This helps us to see why this passage and surrounding passages have been reinterpreted as a sign of Jesus.
It was a prophecy for those days, of course, but still speaks to us. The concept of God offering a radically new way to live in the world, and a different understanding of where power lies, is equally as relevant today when so many leaders look towards a profitable culture of war rather than a child of peace.
In a minute I am going to play some music and as you listen I want to invite you to reflect on the names of Jesus, how he is described in the bible and in church history and in common everyday language.
What name of Jesus do you want to take into the Christmas season… or what name is who Jesus is most evident to you right now?
I invite you to take the candle you were given as you entered worship and using a sharpie write that name on the candle… then come forward and light your candle and place it in the sand
Resources: Spill the Beans Issue 24