Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 6. Confusing God or Confused Us
Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
We may sing these words and we certainly tend to read them out in Christmas services but they are words, I would suggest, along with a lot of others, that are simply confusing to the human mind. In the Jewish culture it was accepted that prophets throughout the Old Testament spoke God’s direct words. Isaiah was one of the ‘big’ prophets and a variety of his ‘words’ were taken to refer to ‘the Coming One’, the Messiah, the Christ, but they left the scholars scratching their heads. Contradictory things seemed to be said – a ruler yet a servant, victorious yet beaten, and in this one verse above the most explosive prophetic words ever written – and yet we so often take them for granted as we hear them read every year.
The context is a word to what became Galilee, the northern third of Israel. A land of darkness, spiritual and emotional, a land that was always first to take a hit from northern invading armies. And then Isaiah prophesies about a great light coming to this land of darkness (Isa 9:2), a day when war will cease and peace will come (Isa 9:3-5).
It is in this context that he brings what surely must be intended to be a word of encouragement: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” That is simple and straight forward. The implication is that the light-bringer is about to be born, no problem.
“and the government will be on his shoulders.” An old fashioned way of saying he will be a ruler. OK, no problem with that either but it is what follows that is confusing. There are four descriptions of this baby to be born who will become a ruler. The first and the last could be taken without too much difficulty: “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…. Prince of Peace.” The word ‘peace’ so often means wholeness so we might take this to mean that this coming ruler is coming to bring great wisdom and insight and wholeness of living. So far, so good. But the middle two descriptions?
“Mighty God…. Everlasting Father.” There is no way to read those words and not interpret them as saying, “This child will be God.” Now for the Jews, aware of their history, aware of God’s holiness, aware that the Law told them not to make images of God, aware of His ‘otherness’, being so awesome that they would not even use His full name as it came through Moses, this was a bridge too far. This must mean he, the Coming One, will just do the works of God.
But the words don’t say that, they say something that is so mind blowing that virtually every religion the world has ever known would deny this suggestion. It seems that this prophecy is utterly confusing, but the truth is that we are the confused ones. On one hand we say that, yes, philosophically, by definition, God must be unlimited and able to do anything – and then our minds stumble – except come in human form.
The point I would make is ultra-simple, so simple in fact that you might wonder why I write about it: it is that all of the aspects of the advent story are so mind blowing to the human, materialistic mind, that they must be impossible – angels, immaculate conception, incarnation – all beyond us. But that is our confusion, because God by definition can do anything. But is this – and remember, this is all about reality – how we view all of our ‘spiritual world’ – OK as long as I can understand it? Do we, I wonder as I watch the Christian world today, need to pray, “Lord, please deliver me from the materialistic prison I have allowed my mind to be limited by, when I think of you, and when I think of what you want to do in and through me”? Advent is about God pushing our boundaries.