Topical Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7
Today I have a secret to reveal: my middle name is Clarence. James Clarence Denison. Here’s the story. The oldest Denison male in every family was given the middle name of Irvin, without exception. My father hated that middle name. But he knew the only way my grandfather would allow him to break the tradition was if my grandfather’s first name became my middle name. And the rest is history, with apologies to the two resident members out of our 9,400 members who are similarly named.
Things could always be worse. The full name of Prince Charles of England is Charles Philip Arthur George of the House of Windsor. His titles are: His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales; Knight of the Garter; Knight, Order of the Thistle; Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester; Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay; Earl of Carrick and Baron Renfrew; Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland; Personal Aide-de-Camp to the Queen; and Great Master of the Order of the Bath. And of the rest of the house, I’m sure.
Titles and names can be trivial pursuits. Or they can reveal the inner character and permanent identity of their bearer. The latter is so with the Christ of Christmas. Isaiah named him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Never have we needed such a God more than today.
Newsweek‘s latest cover: “The Hunt for Bin Laden.” Time‘s cover: “Inside the Manhunt.” And they were published Thanksgiving week. The bearded figure most Americans are thinking about this season isn’t Santa Claus. We need peace for a world in pieces.
This morning we’ll begin with the first title of the Christ child, the first promise to us: a counselor for chaotic times. Who needs one today?
Who needs a wise counselor?
As our text opens, seven centuries before Christmas, the world is at war, as ours is today. Assyria will destroy Israel and threaten Judah; then Babylon will overthrow Assyria and enslave Judah for seventy years. War clouds are brewing, and there is no blue sky in sight.
In such chaotic times, the people are seeking counsel from everyone but God. They are turning to “mediums and spiritists,” consulting “the dead on behalf of the living” (8:19). They are ignorant of the “law and testimony,” the revealed word of God (8:20). And so they “see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (8:22).
Our text describes their confusion and chaos further. The people are “walking in darkness” and “living in the land of the shadow of death” (9:2). They feel the “yoke that burdens them,” the “bar across their shoulders,” the “rod of their oppressor” (v. 4). They have known the “warrior’s boot used in battle” and the “garment rolled in blood” (v. 5). Their nation is in chaos, distress, spiritual confusion. They need a Wonderful Counselor.
Are you more afraid than you were on September 10? Afraid of airplanes, tall buildings, and mail? Worried about the future, and your future?
The most recent New England Journal of Medicine reported that ninety percent of Americans admit to symptoms of stress following the September 11 attacks. Post-traumatic stress levels in our country are increasing five fold.
Even before September 11, doctors estimated that 70% of our illnesses are the result of mental stress and worry. And heart specialists listed such stress as the number one cause of heart disease.
Marvin Harris is an anthropologist and the author of America Now. He documents the fact that America’s increase in cults, drug addiction, and suicide is a direct result of a lack of direction and spiritual purpose for our lives.
Boris Becker, the youngest man ever to win the Wimbledon tennis tournament, nearly took his own life a few years ago. Here’s why: “I had won Wimbledon twice before. I was rich, I had all the material possessions I needed—money, cars, women, everything. I know that this is a cliché—it’s the old song of the movie and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string.”
Jack Higgins, the author of The Eagle Has Landed and other bestsellers, was asked, “What would you have liked to have known at the age of 16, which you now know to be true?” His answer: “I would have liked somebody to have told me that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”
How do you feel about your future, your life direction, your purpose? The ladder you’re climbing today? The world you inhabit? Would you like a Wonderful Counselor?
Who is a wise counselor?
“Wonderful” in the Hebrew means “so full of wonder as to be miraculous.” “Counselor” points to a man of such wisdom that he can advise kings, the wisest man in the land.
The words together can be translated, “He who plans wonderful things.” He is a Counselor in his office waiting for your questions and problems. And he is also a Counselor in your office, the God who steps into your history, your world, your life, the proactive Creator who has a plan for your life every day.
One of my favorite promises in God’s word is Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you—plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The maker of all creation has a plan for your life, and it is wonderful. The Christ of Christmas is ready to counsel you, to guide you with the wisdom of God himself.
This was Isaiah’s first name for the baby of Bethlehem. Was he right?
When he was only twelve, he had his first audience with the religious scholars. The result? “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47).
When he taught the people, “they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom?'” they asked (Matthew 13:54).
Colossians 2:3 says that “in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Not just some, but “all.” If he has all the treasures of wisdom, how much do we have? To whom should we go for counsel in chaos?
The Christ of Christmas walked this sinful, chaotic planet for fifteen million minutes of life, without a single sin or mistake. Not one wrong thought, action, or purpose. I heard the great black preacher Frederick Sampson say of Christmas, “God relocated.” He is a Wonderful Counselor, indeed.
His wisdom designed you in every part. An engineer once determined that if you were a machine, you would be a self-balancing, 28-jointed biped with the following: millions of warning signals, railroad and conveyer systems; 23-jointed self-surfacing and lubricating cranes; a universally distributed telephone system; an electrochemical reduction plant, integral with segregated stowages of special energy extracts in storage batteries, for subsequent actuation of thousands of hydraulic and pneumatic pumps; and 62,000 miles of blood capillaries.
The controlling turret contains telescopic and microscopic self-registering and recording range finders, a spectroscope, an air conditioning intake and exhaust, and a main fuel intake. The turret houses an analytical laboratory large enough to contain minute records of every event across every day of your life, and to extend by computation and abstract fabrication this experience into all corners of the observed universe.
The baby of Bethlehem made that. He made you. He is a Wonderful Counselor.
How do we find his wisdom?
So, how do we consult him today? First, believe that you should. Believe by faith that you can trust his wisdom for your problems and your life.
We want a counselor who has been where we are. Cancer patients seek out cancer survivors; those who are bereaved are the best comforters for others who are bereaved. Wisdom is no help to us unless it comes from someone who’s been where we are, someone we can trust.
The good news is that Jesus knows your problems, your temptations, your fears, because he has faced them all. He is the only God in all of world religion and human history to walk on our planet, in our skin. To set aside his heavenly glory for a feed trough, his unspeakable power to become a fetus. He has lived with us, breathed our air, felt our pain. All because of Christmas.
Second, seek his help. Admit that you cannot face the chaos of these days alone, that you need the wisdom only God can give, the guidance only the One who lives in tomorrow can give you for today. Seek his help, for he’s waiting to give it.
Jesus has the divine ability to hear millions of prayers in thousands of languages, right now. And to answer every one of them at the same time, in real time.
I read this week that 4 trillion e-mails were sent in 2000, and that 656 million instant messages are sent every day on AOL. Imagine reading and answering every one of them. Jesus can.
With him there’s no waiting to get online, no appointments with his administrative assistant, no voice mail menu to navigate. You may not be able to get the mayor or the governor or the president on the phone, but you can speak to the God of the universe right now.
You can seek him, because he’s already sought you. He climbed down the ladder you could never climb up, and scaled the eternal distance between heaven and earth, and entered your world and your heart. Because of Christmas, you have a Wonderful Counselor who is waiting to be your counselor in chaotic times, right now.
Meet this Christ of Christmas personally, today. Establish an intimate friendship with him. And if you have, ask him to be your counselor. What decision, problem, worry, fear most plagues your mind? What would you most like to ask God? Ask him. Then listen for his answer in Scripture, in prayer, in worship, in sermons and Bible studies, in his creation, by his Spirit in your spirit. He wants you to know his will more than you want to know it. He wants to be far more than a Sunday religion for you. He wants to guide, advise, and fulfill your life every day. Make him your permanent Counselor today.
A man’s wife died, and the first night after the funeral was hard for him and his son. The boy got in bed with his father. They lay in the dark, but the boy could not go to sleep. Finally the boy said, “Dad, is your face toward me? I think I can go to sleep, if I know your face is turned toward me.” “Yes,” the father answered, “I’m looking right at you.” Soon the boy drifted off to sleep.
Late that night the father got out of bed, walked over to the window, and looked up into the heavens. “God,” he asked, “is your face turned toward me?”
Because of Christmas, no matter how chaotic the night, it is. Is yours turned toward him?