In the midst of what has become our “new normal” what do you seek? With frustrations mounting, disappointment being a regular thing, patience growing thin, the pressure to do what is best, changes and updates happening every day, numbers, stats and projections swirling around like winter wind, what do you want? In the midst of keeping kids on track with school, making yet another adjustment to holiday plans and travel, juggling what is, what isn’t and what might be, canceling this and avoiding that, wondering if you have been exposed yet again, and living in the tension between being safe, cautious, and responsible and just not caring anymore, what do you want?
Afterall, that is the question of the season now upon us. You have probably been asked or have asked someone else, “what do you want for Christmas?” If not and if you have young kids or teenagers in your life, you have probably been given the annual Christmas wish list.
What about you? What do you want? How about the assurance that life over the last eight months will be worth it for the joy that awaits you? How about the promise that in the midst of every sigh, disappointment, heartbreak, argument, election speech, or medical report, there is something bigger? How about the absolute that despite the anger, blame, fear, or uncertainty, love will prevail? I am talking about the undeniable hope that comes at the sound of the greatest proclamation ever penned or spoken; ever put to music or ever recorded. It is nothing less than the assurance that God is up to something far greater than any of us could imagine, expect, or anticipate: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light ; those who lived in aland of deep darkness - on them light has shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called 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 forward and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” - Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
These words have been spoken, sung, put to music, and proclaimed since the 8th century BCE, when the prophet Isaiah uttered them. They were often used to announce the birth of a royal prince in Jerusalem or the coronation of a new king. Words of a leader that would far surpass every expectation and make good on every promise.
The title of Wonderful Counselor refers to the exercise of governance, the capacity to administer, to plan, and to execute policy. In this text, Isahah praises God for assigning in a new human king who is expected to devise plans and policies for the benefit of the entire realm (not just the wealthy and powerful). The term wonderful suggests that the new king will not only have extraordinary wisdom and foresight about planning but that the royal plans and policies will be of exceptional quality, a big surprise that goes beyond all the usual conventions of political power and practice.
In other words the new king will have wisdom beyond their years and a wisdom that flipped existing systems, standing operating procedures, and traditional expectations end over end. Luke 2 tells us Jesus was exactly that. “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him...and Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Jesus did not do things the way people were used to or in the way the Roman authorities had forced upon them. His teachings contradicted all usual assumptions. He confounded the authorities; he engaged the powerless crowds, he recognized the value of the marginalized, he bridged the gap between what we call the Old Testament way of the Law and the New Testament way of community. He did not abolish, dismiss or deny the law but rather he fulfilled it in ways no one expected; with love and compassion rather than hatred and violence; with humility and freedom rather than arrogance and oppression.
Jesus, as Wonderful Counselor, articulated a world under alternative governance that did not conform to old patterns of abuse and exploitation. His was a regime of peace and well being that went on to displace the older order of violence and extortion. Jesus opened the world to the impossible and gave hope that things could be different; that there was a better way and that way was to live in service to one another, to stand up for and speak out for those who have no voice, to draw strength, courage, and comfort from a faith rooted in the God who loves so much so that God’s own son gave up everything so that all would have something wonderful.
This Advent season, prepare your hearts to encounter God in ways you might not expect. Prepare and be open to the possibilities God places before you even now. Prepare your heart to be transformed in ways you
Pastor Jenothy Irvine