One Gift, Six Blessings: God’s Christmas Present to His People1
Christmas, for some, can be an especially discouraging time of year. One often hears of those suffering from “seasonal depression” or the “holiday blues” as they contemplate the loss of a loved one, a failed marriage, unemployment and the financial pressure of being unable to provide gifts for their family, or perhaps a child who simply won’t come home. Continue reading . . .
Christmas, for some, can be an especially discouraging time of year. One often hears of those suffering from “seasonal depression” or the “holiday blues” as they contemplate the loss of a loved one, a failed marriage, unemployment and the financial pressure of being unable to provide gifts for their family, or perhaps a child who simply won’t come home.
But I have good news for you today! You have a reason to rejoice that far exceeds the combined effect of the difficulties and disappointments you face. The reason comes in the form of six blessings from God, but not the sort that you find wrapped with ribbon and bow and placed under a tree. Rather, these blessings are embodied in one gift, one person: Jesus Christ. Listen closely:
“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” (Isa. 9:6).
These gifts are six glorious truths concerning the person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But before we begin to unwrap them, one by one, there are a couple of things to note. First, when the prophet says his name shall be “called” Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, etc., he does not mean that Jesus actually bears these names, as if his mother Mary might have said: “Go tell ‘Wonderful Counselor’ that dinner is ready!” Rather, these names or titles are descriptive of his character and personality. He IS the kind of person the names portray him to be.
Also, these are not merely the names or titles or descriptive phrases of some ancient historical figure. These are more than lyrics in a chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” or words on a Christmas card. These names and titles express what Jesus is to you, in you, and for your sake. So I suggest that you read this passage personally: “For to me a child is born, to me a son is given . . .” Each gift has a tag with a single word.
(1) Sympathy! When the prophet declares that to us a “child is born” and a “son” is given, he highlights the fact that Jesus was and is a human being! Fully God and fully man. Wholly human and wholly divine. Both the son of a virgin peasant girl and the Son of Almighty God.
Everyone has their favorite Bible verse, that one text that has exerted on them the greatest and most life-changing influence. Mine is Psalm 16:11, followed closely by Zephaniah 3:17 and 1 Peter 1:8. But let me briefly share with you what I regard as the most amazing verse in Scripture. By “amazing” I mean incomprehensible, stunning, bewildering, beyond the capacity of the human mind to fully grasp. For me, it is John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh”! I can think of nothing more appropriate at this time of year than to meditate on this truly amazing assertion.
John’s statement is made all the more amazing when it is seen in the light of John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Note the contrasts. In John 1:1 the Word “was”. In John 1:14 the Word “became”. In 1:1 the Word was “with God” whereas in 1:14 the Word dwelt “among us”. In 1:1 the Word was “God” but in 1:14 the Word became “flesh”. Eternal, unchanging God “became” “flesh” and dwelt among “us”. Amazing!
John doesn’t say that the Word became a “man” (although that's true). Nor does he say he became a “human”, or even that he took to himself a “body” (although both are again true). Rather, the Word became “flesh”, a strong, almost crude way of referring to human nature in its totality: true body, soul, spirit, will, and emotions.
We also note that the Word didn’t pretend to be a man or play at being human. The Word “became” flesh. The Word did not “beam down” in full bodily form. The Word did not enter into flesh, as if to suggest that there was a man, a human being, into which the Word made entrance. He doesn't say the Word “dwelled” or “abided in” human flesh. What John means is that the eternal Word, God the Son, entered into this world by being born as a human being.
Whatever else Christmas may mean to you, it is first and fundamentally about the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word. The Incarnation means that two distinct natures (divine and human) are united in one person: Jesus. Jesus is not two people (God and man). He is one person: the God-man. Jesus is not schizophrenic. When the Word became flesh he did not cease to be the Word. The Word veiled, hid, and voluntarily restricted the use of certain divine powers and prerogatives. But God cannot cease to be God. In other words, when the Word became flesh he did not commit divine suicide.
When the Word once became flesh he became flesh forever. After his earthly life, death, and resurrection, Jesus did not divest himself of the flesh or cease to be a man. He is a man even now at the right hand of God the Father. He is also God. He will always be the God-man. Thus, we might envision Jesus saying: "I am now what I always was: God (or Word). I am now what I once was not: man (or flesh). I am now and forever will be both: the God-man."
Take a deep breath and ponder what this means. Don't dismiss it as theological speculation. This is a truth on which your eternal destiny hangs suspended. This is a truth the beauty and majesty of which will captivate your attention and cause sin to sink in your estimation. Wherein lies the power to turn from iniquity and say No to sin? It lies in the power and irresistible appeal of an uncreated God who would dare to become a man!
(2) Supremacy! The “government”, declares the prophet, “shall be upon his shoulder.” If Jesus is more than able to shoulder the weight of the world, he can surely bear your burdens!
Contrast this with the structure of our government and its separation of powers. The Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches are designed, among other reasons, so that no one person or group of individuals should bear the weight of the whole. But Jesus rules alone! Supremacy of power and authority rests with him. He is the King of kings, President of presidents, and Judge of all judges.
Terrorists may destroy, politicians may posture, armies maneuver and nations threaten, but Jesus Christ sits on the throne in unchallenged and unassailable supremacy!
(3) Sagacity! He is the “Wonderful Counselor”! Can you think of any situation in which Jesus said the wrong thing, or spoke out of turn, stuck his foot in his mouth, or remained silent when his words were needed?
His counsel is unfailing and flawless, perfectly suited to the situation, always practical and prudent. There is no problem on which he needs to “study up” or refer to a professional. I often feel the frustration of having to say to those confused or in need, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to tell you.” Jesus is never lacking for advice or an answer to satisfy our souls.
And note well: he’s not simply a good counselor or wise counselor but a wonderful counselor. And not only are there wonderful things about him, he is himself a wonder! It brings to mind that simple chorus we sang in the nineties,
“Jesus, what a wonder you are!
You are so gentle, so pure and so kind.
You shine like the morning star.
Jesus, what a wonder you are!”
(4) Sovereignty! He is the “Mighty God”. Jesus is not only able to give perfect advice; he is also able to supply us with the power to heed it. He is able to enable you to achieve what he advises! When people leave my presence, taking with them what little wisdom I may have provided, I’ve done all I can do. I can’t energize their wills or empower their hearts or stir their souls to act on what they know to be true. But Jesus can!
Of the six truths about Jesus in this passage, this is the one non-Christians despise the most. The world is willing to acknowledge the “baby” Jesus, “away in a manger,” helpless, cuddly, and vulnerable. Christmas is o.k., if that’s as far as it goes, for it poses no threat to one’s sin and pride and personal autonomy. Speak and sing, if you must, of swaddling clothes and the tiny, tender infant. But then declare that this babe in a manger is also the Mighty God, Holy, Infinite, Sovereign over all, and they want nothing to do with him. Jesus in a manger is one thing. Jesus on a throne is something else altogether!
(5) Sensitivity! Why this word to describe Jesus as “Eternal Father”? First, the term “father” is not used here in the Trinitarian sense, as if depicting relationships within the Godhead. The prophet is not saying that the Son is also the Father (a heresy denounced in the early church councils).
The word “Father” is a descriptive analogy pointing to Christ’s character. What does a “father” do? What image is evoked by the word? I suggest he has in mind the tenderness and sensitivity of a compassionate and affectionate father. It is the security and love he provides, as well as protection and provision. Jesus, therefore, is fatherly, father-like, in his treatment of us. This is similar to what the psalmist had in mind when he said, “as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13).
(6) Serenity! He is “the Prince of Peace”! He is the source of all serenity. He himself “is our peace” (Eph. 2:14), having broken down the barriers that divide us from one another and, most important of all, the barriers between us and God (cf. Romans 5:1).
A day is coming when he will establish peace among the nations and subdue all opposition to his rule. But now, in the present, he is here on your behalf to bring peace and joy and tranquility and calm to your heart. “I have said these things to you,” spoke Jesus, “that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
At Christmas, children often spend time dividing up the presents under the tree, counting who in the family has the most (well, I did anyway; yes, it was carnal and materialistic, but I was only a kid!). Today I’m here to reassure you that you will never go gift-less, not on Christmas morn or any other time of the year.
Here are six gifts from God, specially wrapped and delivered . . . for you! A sympathetic friend, a supreme and unchallenged Lord over all, wonderfully wise, always able to act on behalf of those who trust him, sensitive and caring and compassionate, the giver of all peace and comfort and consolation.