Pastor Scott Andrews | December 5, 2021
We are living in most turbulent times. I suppose Charles Dickens got it mostly right. I’m not talking about A Christmas Carol – rather, in the opening lines of his classic A Tale of Two Cities, he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Again, mostly right – if only the first of each of those couplets were true today.
It seems the worst of times in almost every way – political, social, economic, medical, racial, judicial, religious, educational, moral. Every institution is divided and under attack. People aren’t necessarily for anything, they’re just against everything. And those challenges have perhaps brought feelings of fear or anxiety, discouragement or depression. A long season of darkness, a long winter of despair. We heard Wednesday morning at our men’s Bible study – suicides and overdoses are at an all-time high. So, in the midst of this mess, what would make it better? What would make you happy? Or at least make Christmas jolly and bright?
Let’s go back to that list I gave a moment ago, considered in order. Maybe if your party retained or regained political power. Maybe if there was a return to the social graces of kindness and civil discourse. Maybe if inflation could be moderated, we could have a holly, jolly Christmas. Maybe if this was the last variant, and we could return to normal – without vaccines and boosters, masks and quarantines. Maybe if there was no racial prejudice – maybe if people really were judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Maybe if the Supreme Court gets it right this time, since they didn’t in ‘73. Maybe if there was less religious turmoil and division. Maybe if parents and school boards could agree – on anything. Maybe if there was a national return to morality – to doing what is right rather than calling evil good, and good evil. Would any or all that make you happy? I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Big asks, I know. Maybe too much to ask. And maybe that’s all a bit too ethereal. Maybe you’re just looking for a little Christmas cheer. Maybe the right gifts under the tree. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire – Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yeah, that’s it – maybe a little snow – or better yet, a white Christmas with Bing Crosby. But really, 70 degrees on Friday, December 3, are you kidding? It’s even the worst of times for weather.
What would make you happy? Can I suggest all those things, even the big asks, could bring happiness, as momentary as it may be. I may be stretching it a bit, but happiness to me seems transitory. Temporary. Circumstantial. Meaning, if all goes according to my likes and plans – favorable circumstances – happy I will be. But what happens when the illusions of peace fail, when presents fade, when snow melts. Then what?
Can I suggest if you’re looking for the best of times in favorable circumstances, if you’re looking for the right gifts in order to have a merry Christmas, you might be looking in the wrong place. Maybe temporary happiness is okay, but the promise of Christmas is joy – deep-seated, eternal joy. I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. You see, the latest Iphone or technological wonder can bring happiness, until February – but Jesus can bring everlasting joy.
It’s why, by the way, we sing of Joy to the World at Christmas – not happy to the world. Think of some of the Christmas carols you know:
O Come all ye faithful, happy and triumphant? That’s not right – joyful and triumphant.
Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply, Echo back their happy strains. No – echo back their joyous strains.
This one’s fun: How Great Our Joy is the name of the song which goes like this:
While by the sheep we watched at night, Glad tidings brought an angel bright.
How great our joy! Great our joy! Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
Would it work like this:
How great our happy! Great our happy! Happy, happy, happy! Happy, happy, happy!
One more for fun:
Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice!
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!
Good Christian men, don’t worry, be happy with heart and soul and voice!
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Happy! Happy! Jesus Christ was born for this!
Endless bliss and happy doesn’t work for me, does it you? I think you get the point. Again, I think joy should be distinguished from happy as the latter seems momentary and contingent on outward circumstances. It doesn’t seem quite as deep. I believe many in the world around us, especially our culture, are searching for happy – but I’m not sure many have experienced deep, soul-filled joy. Because it’s true, happiness can be fleeting – here one day and gone the next. I would even suggest the celebration of Christmas today brings momentary happiness, while the first Christmas, the true Christmas, brought everlasting joy.
You see, the happy holidays of today are often quickly replaced by the gloom of January winter and the stress of January debt. But the joy of the first Christmas – the do not be afraid for I bring you good news of great joy for all people is an internal reality that is independent of external life – it is found in eternal life.
I believe Scripture bears this out – at least the idea that joy is something deep. So today, as we look for just a moment at advent joy, I want us to grasp the real joy of Christmas which lasts long after the tree and the lights are down, long after the wrapping paper and bows have made their way to the dump, long after the toys have lost their luster, long after the decorations have been stored in the closet. Let’s talk about soul-satisfying, God-entranced joy.
How is it the birth of a baby in Bethlehem could bring such joy of which the heavenly choir of angels sang? Because this was not just any baby – this was the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Let’s look at Him, then, as we remember the message of advent joy.
Turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 9. While you’re turning, let me take you to 700 years before the first Christmas drama unfolded in Matthew and Luke. Isaiah was a prophet to the rebellious people of Israel 700 years before the birth of Christ. Up to this point in Isaiah, it has been pretty much doom and gloom, not unlike today – the worst of times. The prophet has primarily been speaking of the impending judgment to come; but, chapter 9 begins with the words: “But there will be no more gloom…The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.” In other words, their gloom will turn to joy, even in the midst of national disaster and pending judgment. Seven hundred years later, Matthew quotes these verses of Isaiah in chapter 4 of his gospel, saying Jesus fulfilled this Messianic prophecy – He was that great light.
Now, Isaiah gives us three reasons why there will be no more gloom. The first, found in verse 4, is the Lord was going to break the yoke of their burden. The second, found in verse 5, is that as there will be no more war, the accoutrements of war will be used for fire. In chapter 2, he had told them there was a day coming when their swords would be hammered into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Not only that, Isaiah tells us thirdly, the reason there would be no more burdensome yolk, the reason there would be no more war is this great light of verse 1 would come in the form of a child, but not just any child. His name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace. He was, of course, speaking of the birth of Jesus.
Let’s read our text in Isaiah 9:6a – “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders.” That’s a pretty familiar verse, particularly this time of the year – to Christians and non-Christians alike. We hear it almost every Christmas as it was made famous in The Messiah written by George Handel in 1741. I’d sing it for you, but we don’t have time.
Unfortunately, the unbelieving world would like to stop there in the verse – they’d like to keep this newborn child in a manger and pull Him out once a year and enjoy Christmas with familiar carols, festive traditions and fattening goodies reserved only for the holiday season. But, the verse, and the Christmas story, does not stop there. It goes on to give a description of the character of this child: Isaiah 9:6b, “And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
I want to take the next few minutes to look at each of the four names that describe this child born to us, and in so doing, learn a little about who He is, and the joy He brought. So that even in these worst of times, we can know joy. (Christians – global pandemic and national disaster) But before we do that, let’s go back to the beginning of the verse. I want you to notice a couple of things:
First, “For a child will be born to us.” Isaiah already pointed out in chapter 7 this particular child to be born would be with us, now, now he says He will be born to us. Think about that. We don’t typically think of a birth carrying any real significance to anyone except his or her parents, and maybe the grandparents (pic of Amos). And the birth of a child 2000 years ago should have little impact on our lives today. I mean, can you tell me anyone else born that year? How about this: can anyone tell me the birthday of Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man in the world at the time of this child’s birth in Bethlehem? No one cared when little Gus was born, except maybe his parents.
And you could care less today – it’s just mindless history to you. Because Augustus means little more to you than that he was a Roman Emperor, and more importantly, a pawn used by God to issue a decree that a census of all the world should be taken. Everyone was to return to the city of his familial birth to register, so Joseph took his pregnant wife Mary to the place of his family’s birth, Bethlehem, since he was of the lineage of David. Why is this important? Because, Micah 5:2 said that this child to be born to us would be born in Bethlehem. If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t know his name. Can anyone tell me the name of the Caesar who followed Augustus? Tiberius.
But think about it. Parents are, after all, the most affected by birth – they are the ones who have to feed the little guy in the middle of the night, buy his clothes, send him to school, teach him a trade or spend a fortune sending him to college. It is true, birth changes the parents’ lives forever, but usually just them. We’ve had a number of children born in our church over the past year, and I imagine they’ve changed the way their parents sleep and eat and do just about everything. But honestly, they haven’t changed my sleep patterns at all.
But, the birth of this child 2000 years ago in a faraway place changed my life forever. This child was not just born to his parents, He was born to us. And His birth carries eternal ramifications to everyone who has ever lived – from Joseph and Mary, to Caesar Augustus, to Tiberius, to President Joe Biden, to everyone in this auditorium. He can turn your gloom to joy.
Notice, secondly, the first part of the verse says, “a son will be given to us.” There you have it, the very essence of Christmas. This son was given to us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. He was a gift, unmerited, unearned, undeserved. God didn’t have to check His list to see who was naughty or nice, He already knew. And the amazing thing is, even though He knew – listen, every one of us were on His coal list – He gave His Son anyway. And through Him, the free gift of eternal life to all who believe in Him.
Now let’s turn our attention to the names given to this Son given to us. Isaiah didn’t intend for us to understand when this child was born these would be His actual names. When Mary was pregnant and asked what names she had picked out for the child, she didn’t respond with, “Well, we have it narrowed down to four, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, or Prince of Peace.” These are not names you would find in the typical name book. The fact is, she was told to name the child Jesus. These names are intended to describe the child, and these are names He alone deserves to bear.
First, He is called Wonderful Counselor. While I think most translations correctly have the two words combined into one title, it’s helpful to look at each of the words separately:
First is the word Wonderful. The word speaks of that which is beyond human comprehension. Now, when you think of a little infant, there’s usually not that much to figure out. If he’s smiling, his tummy is full and his diaper is empty – if he is crying, his stomach is empty and his diaper is full. Not too tough.
But this child given to us was beyond human comprehension. It’s a strong word here. Not only is He wonderful in what He does, but He Himself is a wonder, beyond the comprehension of mortal man. He is beyond you, beyond me, so much so that He was out of our reach – He had to reach down to us. To come as He was would have been incomprehensible to us, so He came as one of us, one born of a woman, born of human flesh.
Secondly, we see He is Counselor. The word speaks of His wisdom and knowledge – His understanding. While He is beyond understanding to us, He Himself possesses infinite wisdom. The Scripture tells us in another place that He has no need of anyone’s counsel, He is the Wonderful Counselor, the incomprehensible one of infinite wisdom. And, as such, we have one who is capable of counseling us, of understanding things we don’t understand. He is thoroughly reliable. He has the insight to lead us at all times, even when we don’t know what is going on. Even when the world is falling apart. That’s reason for joy.
In an article I read several years ago Pastor Bob Harvey tells of how early in his ministry, a close friend died. In an effort to comfort the widow, he shared all his seminary textbook explanations of how and why God might let this happen. But the woman, in his words, lovingly rebuked him. She said, “I don’t need a God like that. I don’t need to understand all this. What I need is a God who is bigger than my mind.” And that is what we have in this baby in a manger, a God who is infinitely bigger than our minds, because He is our Wonderful Counselor.
Next, He is called Mighty God. We have here is a clear declaration that this child who was born to us was in fact God. The same words are used by Isaiah in 10:20-21, clearly referring to Yahweh, to God Himself:
20 Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.
21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.
Now, the unbelieving world would prefer to keep the child as a baby in a manger. It’s pretty easy to celebrate Christmas, because a baby in a manger is pretty non-threatening. What accountability is there to a little baby who goo’s and ga’s? But what accountability is there to the Mighty God, the Creator of the universe, the one to whom we will one day answer and give an account? Kind of takes the fun out of Christmas if you don’t know him, if you don’t have a personal relationship with Him as Lord and Savior. That is, after all, why He came. To give his life as a ransom for you and me. To turn our gloom to exceedingly great joy.
Thirdly, He is called Eternal Father. Now that’s kind of confusing at first glance. How can this baby be called the Son of the Father and the Father at the same time? In other words, how can He be the second person of the Trinity and the first person all at the same time?
You have to understand what is being used here is a Hebrew idiom. It could be translated “Father of Eternity.” Let me illustrate. If I wanted to say that you were the most patient person I have ever met, I could do so by calling you the father of patience.
What Isaiah was saying is this: this baby to be born in the flesh is, in fact, eternal. He is both the possessor and provider of eternal life. John 3:36, in speaking of Jesus, says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” He is the Father of Eternity – this One alone can claim to be the Mighty God – this one alone is the provider of eternal life. That’s good news of great joy for all the people.
Finally, this one to come is called the Prince of Peace. When this baby was born in Bethlehem, there was a host of heavenly angels heard to announce in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
He came to restore peace, to bring a kingdom of peace. The peace He brought through Bethlehem is realized in the hearts of people when they are reconciled to God. Remember, Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s good news of great joy.
Christmas is indeed a special day, special not just for the traditions that have arisen through the centuries. Is finds its greatest significance in the lives of those who have a relationship, not just with a baby born 2000 years ago, but with the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace. For believers, those who in the past walked in darkness, he has become our great light. He has turned our gloom to joy.
As we close this morning, I want to take just a few minutes to talk about what joy is. The word is kara, and it means a state of joy, gladness, and great happiness; a feeling of inner happiness that results in rejoicing, gladness, or delight.
Once again, we see the joy Christ brought is an internal joy that if unaffected by outward circumstances – it doesn’t matter what’s going on out here – we have joy, gladness, great happiness on the inside that causes us to rejoice. In fact, the word for rejoice is kind of the verb form of the word joy – to rejoice is to express joy.
It’s also interesting to note, when I did my search in the Scripture for the word joy, the number of times that it appears with the word shout – about 1/6 of the time – 28 verses, mainly in the Psalms, have phrases like this: shout for joy, shout of joy, shout to God to with the voice of joy. In fact, why don’t you look at a few of those verses with me:
Psalm 32:11, “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.”
Psalm 33:3, “Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.”
Psalm 47:1, “O clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy.”
Psalm 71:23, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You.”
Psalm 81:1, “Sing for joy to God our strength; Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob,”
Psalm 95:1, “O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.”
Psalm 98:4, “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.”
With that idea in mind – that joy causes exuberant rejoicing, gladness, delight, look at these New Testament verses with me (I don’t usually do this – give you a bunch of verses one right after the other, but listen to these):
Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
Acts 13:52. “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
I Peter 1:8, “…and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…”
Luke 2:10, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people…’”
Jude 24-25, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
What’s my point? The joy Jesus brought at that first Christmas, as the babe in the manger, as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace, ought to be apparent in the life of the believer. It ought to affect the way we live, the way we worship, the way we work, the way we play. People ought to be able to look at us and tell – in the midst of all trials, they’re not singing, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Nobody Knows My Sorrow” – they’re joyful people. I bring you good news of great joy for you people this morning. Shout for joy, all the earth.