There’s a lot to consider when it comes to naming your children. Some families are so set on a name that they’ll go with it no matter its popularity, others choose something original that surely no other kid will have. Some families prefer a biblical name, others choose a family name, and others like a familiar name but personalize it with a less common spelling. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to naming children.
There’s also the occasional deal breaker names, that are completely off the table, such as the names of previous people you dated. You know it’s true … Or if you are involved in education, there are occasionally students who were so hard to deal with that those names are off the table too. I know Callie as a middle school counselor had one of those. And beyond all these considerations, you’ve got to consider how your child’s first name combines with your last name. For example, Eric Hammer, imagine if your parents named you Jack instead? Ladies and Gentleman, introducing Jack Hammer. That actually might have been the coolest name ever …
I guess the point in all of this is, names matter and we give a lot of thought into what we name our children. How much more so is that true of the God-child who was born long ago, that we remember and celebrate every Christmas, the one we know best as Jesus himself.
This Advent season we are going to embark on a little mini-series, titled And He Shall Be Called, reflecting on the 4 Messianic names mentioned here in Isaiah 9, names you have almost certainly heard before during Christmases past … Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
Each one will help us see Jesus more clearly and anticipate him more fully as we make our way towards Christmas morning, helping us paint a portrait over time and give us a bigger picture over who this Jesus really is. We’ll reflect on a different one each week and we’ll begin in order, with the first of the four, Wonderful Counselor.
And yet, before we do, we need to spend a couple minutes situating ourselves into our text for today. If you’ve got a bible open, that’s great, if not, I invite you to open up to Isaiah 9.
As you can feel in the very opening of your bibles here, if you, like me, are not quite mentally or emotionally ready for this Advent or Christmas season, well do not worry, we’re still a long, long ways away from that night in Bethlehem long ago, with a manger or shepherds, and baby Jesus himself. In fact, we’re not even close. Because we’re turning back the clock, we’re going back in time to approximately 700 B.C.
Beginning again in verse 2, it says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”
Notice the themes here of both darkness and light. Isaiah is writing to a people, the nation of Israel, that found themselves in a season of profound darkness. Economic darkness, political darkness, spiritual darkness, you name it. God’s people had utterly failed as a nation, they had turned their back on God, and within the previous chapter here in Isaiah, the prophet is communicating to leaders in Jerusalem that the Assyrians are being sent by God to judge and destroy the city. Their future is uncertain, their safety is threatened, all hope seems lost. That sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it? Though the circumstances are not one and the same, there was darkness in Israel then, and there’s darkness in Israel now. Darkness around the world then, and darkness around our world now.
And yet, there’s a glimmer of hope for Israel past and present, for God’s people past and present, for “a light has dawned.” And not just the hope of going from darkness to light, but even from sadness to joy, oppression to freedom, war to peace.
Skip ahead to verses 6 and 7 and we begin to see why:
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders.
Of all things, Isaiah prophesies of a baby who will one day save the world. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. Peace … through a baby … personally speaking, that’s never really been my experience raising newborns, but of course, this is no ordinary baby. This baby is truly one of a kind.
And just about everyone agrees that this prophecy ultimately points to Jesus himself, rather than a more soon to arrive, human king, for no mere human would be given the names that are mentioned here in verse 6.
And of this baby, he shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
We’ll begin with the first of the four, Wonderful Counselor.
As a way of thinking our way through this name for Jesus, I want us to consider two characteristics that we hope for in a counselor, or even a close friend, that we also see in Christ himself. I’m sure we could come up with a list much longer than two, but for today we’ll consider two. And the two are wisdom and experience.
In the midst of our own personal seasons of darkness, we long for a counselor who is deeply and truly wise. Who understands the nature of the world we live in, who understands us, and who can guide us accordingly.
And at first glance it certainly doesn’t seem wise or helpful to try and comfort an Israelite people facing enemy invasion by telling them to put their hope in a baby that will be born some 700 years later, but yet, this is a baby wise beyond his years.
For he understands the deep darkness within the world we live in and shines light within it, he understands us for he created us, and he can guide us accordingly towards streams of living water when we’re tempted to look elsewhere.
For he is the one who says,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
In Jesus, we find wisdom in the scriptures and through his words. He is the one who is Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, except for the fact that he actually did become visible.
For he took on flesh and dwelt among us.
And it’s this reality that makes him a truly Wonderful Counselor.
For he not only counsels us through his wisdom, but through his experience as well.
For in becoming human, he is the God who has experienced life with us. For he is the God who has been there.
And so you know that phrase, wisdom comes from experience? That’s certainly true for us mere mortals, as we so often gain wisdom through experience. And yet with Jesus, it’s similar, yet slightly different.
With Jesus, it wasn’t that he gained wisdom over time through experience. Rather, in Christ,
Wisdom himself came to experience. The only One who is infinitely wise took upon himself the human experience.
Which therefore means, he is a counselor who not only can give out good advice or offer wise counsel, but even more, he can say what we hope to hear from every counselor, and that is, “I’ve been there,” “I’ve been there.” In other words, someone who can say, “I understand what you’re going through.”
Dorothy Sayers, the British novelist, once put it this way …
“He himself (that is, Jesus) has gone through the whole of human experience – from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death … He was born in poverty and … suffered infinite pain – all for us – and thought it well worth his while.”
You see, Jesus is far more than a counseling parrot who says back to us, “What I hear you saying is … “ Rather, Jesus is the one who can truly say, “I’ve been there.”
And so, have you ever been tempted to sin? Jesus has been there. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Jesus has been there. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He said as he hung on a cross.
He is the Wonderful Counselor for he himself holds all wisdom and experience. For wisdom himself came to experience our human experience.
16 Let us then, (the author of Hebrews writes) approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
And so, with this in mind, there are two points of application that I want to put before you in the week ahead, and in fact, in this Advent season ahead. And in the spirit of Christmas, the first is about receiving, the second is about giving.
First, take time to sit with Jesus as your Wonderful Counselor. After all, what do you do when you see a counselor? You sit, talk, and listen, and that’s really about it. It need not be any different with Jesus. Take time to read scripture, pray, meditate on God’s word, enjoy silence and solitude. Maybe grab one of these booklets in the narthex, it’s called Searching for Christmas by J.D. Greear. In it he follows the names of Jesus that we’ll be reflecting on this Advent season. Or families, pick up a set of Advent Blocks – think of it as an interactive Advent Calendar that helps you remember the true reason for the season, Jesus.
In general, if possible, simplify your calendar. It’s not by accident that Advent happens to fall within the coldest and darkest season of the year. In some respects, there’s simply less to do and it’s nature’s way, and God’s way of saying, do less. So embrace it. Sure you may add stuff to the calendar, a bunch of you will go to gather some greens to make Christmas Swags later this morning, as you should, and I’ll see you there, but maybe take a couple things off your plate too.
One of the ways we mark this season in the Triller house is that in our living room, in goes the tree, and out goes the T.V. The T.V. goes in a closet during Advent. It’s a simple and tangible way in which we eliminate distractions and make space for what matters most.
All this to say, make space for Jesus as your Wonderful Counselor this season.
Secondly, look for ways to extend Christ-like counsel and comfort to one another in the weeks ahead.
The Christmas season can be difficult for many of us as the holidays often shine a bright light on what we don’t have or what is missing in our lives. The empty seat at the dinner table after a loved one dies. The long standing conflict between family members that keeps family at a distance. Illnesses that derail your holiday plans. Christmas cards that arrive in the mail that remind you of what you don’t have. The Christmas season can come with both joy and grief.
So look for ways to extend Christ-like counsel and comfort to one another in the weeks ahead.
One of the things I’m continually reminded of as your pastor is that, as the body of Christ, many of you can offer care and comfort in ways I simply can’t. Sure, I can visit and read scripture and pray alongside someone who is grieving, which is all good and needed and yet many of you can also say to another in their grief those three healing words, “I’ve been there.” You know what it’s like to lose your spouse or to receive a difficult diagnosis or to endure family upheaval, because you’ve been there.
The Christmas story reminds us that Jesus doesn’t ignore our pain, rather he takes it on with us and for us. He is the God who has been there, so look for ways in which you can be there for one another too, extending Christ-like counsel and comfort to one another.
Receive from Jesus as your Wonderful Counselor and then give out of what you’ve received to one another.
Alright, we’ve got to put a bow on all of this. We’ll finish with this …
Of all the ways that Jesus serves as our Wonderful Counselor, there’s one bit of counseling that we need most.
And that is, whether it comes from the counseling world or the wider world, one of the stories that we’re often told is that the way out of our darkness is to believe that all the problems in the world are out there and all the solutions are in here (in the heart). That is, if we just look within long enough, and muster enough goodness from within us, individually we can find healing and together we can make the world a better place.
Friends, the bible, our scripture says just the opposite. We have an inside problem and there’s an outside solution. That all the problems in the world begin with the inward turn of the human heart, and all the solutions lie in Christ himself.
“On those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.” It’s a light from the outside transforming darkness on the inside.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” A child we weren’t worthy of, a son we didn’t deserve, this is hope from the outside, has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And the only way to fix this mess we’re in and escape our present darkness is to receive him as a gift. So this Advent, let’s look outward and fix our eyes on Jesus himself:
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given …
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.