Vol. 11 — No. 1 January 4, 1970
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
In Christ Jesus, the Child born and the Son given, Fellow Redeemed:
We began our service this morning with that stirring Advent prayer:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”
The setting for this hymn is the Babylonian captivity of God’s people some six centuries before the coming of the Savior. Israel prayed for the coming of God’s Son and found joy in the assurance that He would indeed come.
In the hymn before the Sermon we have just sung:
“What the fathers most desired,
What the prophets’ heart inspired,
What they longed for many a year,
Stands fulfilled in glory here.”
How true! During the Advent Season we relive those centuries of waiting, but we live centuries after the fulfillment. We know that the Angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” We have followed the shepherds to Bethlehem many a time and found with them “Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” We have traveled with the wise men from the east and worshipped with them the newborn King of the Jews.
We have a great advantage over the Old Testament believers. They had but foresight; we enjoy all the advantages of hindsight. We can read and study the prophecies in the light of fulfillment. They could but study and ponder the prophetic word and peer into the future. It is difficult for us to put ourselves in their places. But if we try, we shall find it well worth the effort, for prophecy also sheds light upon fulfillment. Let us strive to gain insights into the fulfillment by studying the prophetic word of Isaiah in our text. The first insight that Isaiah gives us concerning the Christmas miracle is that it means—
Light for those in darkness. Isaiah wrote: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah would have us understand that the coming of Promised One meant that light would rise for those sitting in darkness. St. Matthew recorded that thirty years after the miracle of Bethlehem, when Jesus began His public ministry as the Prophet of Galilee, these words of Isaiah were fulfilled. The testifying of Jesus by word and sign that He is the Son of God and Savior of the world was the rising of The Light for the inhabitants of that region who are described as sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. The northern region of the land was exposed both to the repeated attacks of the enemy and to their heathen influences. But if we are to understand the prophecy, we must keep clearly in mind that suffering from warfare and suffering spiritual losses are never pictured in the Scriptures as the result of natural political and economic and social causes. They are always pictured as what they are in fact—the consequences of spiritual decay, unfaithfulness to the Covenant God, rebellion against His commandments, unfaithfulness and rejection of His promises in unbelief. These are the causes that brought the heel of their pagan neighbors stomping over their land, creating gross darkness and making the land, as it were, physically and spiritually a shadow of death. For people suffering from the consequences of their own and their fathers’ sins The Light would go up. The light of grace and truth that was kindled in Bethlehem began to shine in Galilee when the Babe of Bethlehem began His ministry as the Prophet of Galilee. What would that ministry bring to the people. Isaiah revealed the blessing:
Victory for the oppressed. “Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased—actually increased—the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor…” The nation that was depopulated through war would experience the blessing of an increase in population. The people sitting in darkness and the shadow of death would experience great joy. That joy is compared to the joy of the harvest and the joy of victory when the spoils of war are divided. What does it all mean—this victory for the oppressed? Does it mean only a temporary victory as in the recent Six Days’ War when Israel triumphed temporarily over its ancient foes, its Arab neighbors? The picture is indeed one of triumph in war and battle, of the joy in harvest. But remember that the basic cause of misfortune is sin—forgettihg the Lord, violating His law, treading His promises under foot. Joy does not come through a good harvest or a temporary triumph over one’s enemies but rather through the permanent removal of the causes of misery. The joy of the harvest and the joy of dividing the spoil came to the man sick of the palsy when Jesus said unto him, lying there in his misery and pain: “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee,” and to the dying malefactor when the Lord said to him: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The joy of victory over sin and its consequences through the gift of divine forgiveness and life eternal is the blessing that the Promised One came to bring. And bring it He would and did—
As in the day of Midian. The prophet reached back into the past of Israel’s history to illumine the future. You will recall that Gideon was the one chosen of the Lord to deliver His people from the Midianites. But now recall how the Lord achieved that victory through Gideon. Gideon had 32,000 men with him. The Lord said that was too many, for the people would imagine that they had won the victory and not that the Lord had fought for them. So Gideon was instructed by the Lord to reduce the number of his men. He told all the fearful and afraid to return to their homes, but he still had 10,000 men. That was too many, so the Lord instructed Gideon to take his people down to the water, and every one that lapped the water with his tongue was chosen—but 300 men. Then Gideon equipped them, not with battle gear, but with pitchers and lamps—most unlikely weapons to defeat the hosts of the Midianites. But defeat them they did, for the Lord fought for them. It happened as the prophet said: “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.” Noise, blood, burning—so it was in the day of Midian when the Lord, not man, won the victory. What the Lord had done through Gideon in days of old, He would do again—
Through the Child born, the Son given. The prophet’s words turn sharply from a look backward to the past to a thrust forward into the future: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” Earlier in his book of prophecy Isaiah had spoken of the Child, the Son, who was to be born of the virgin—whose name would be Immanuel. Now again he speaks of that Child, that Son, who would bear the burden of governing to bring light to those in darkness and victory to the oppressed. What a task for a child, but not too great a task when you consider the Child to be born!
His name: Wonderful! What a fitting name! When His mother was told that she should bring forth a child, she asked: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The angel answered: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee.” And then he urged his questioner but to believe with these words: “With God nothing shall be impossible.” When Joseph was planning to put Mary away because she was with child, the angel reversed his thinking with the words: “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Wonderful it was and remains. Man has learned to fly in space—to the moon and back—but the virgin birth still defies analysis or repetition. His name is “Wonderful.”
His name is also Counsellor. He counsels concerning the issues of life. Man asks: How can I find peace of conscience? He counsels: Look to Me for full pardon. Man asks: How can I be assured of divine love in the midst of all my aches and pains, cares and burdens? He counsels: I came to hear your burdens. Do but cast them upon me. Mothers may forsake their children, but I will not forsake you. The mountains may depart, but my love for you shall not cease. Man asks in fear and trembling: How can I live when I’m mortal and daily coming closer to the day of my death? He counsels: “Who soever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Because I live, ye shall live also!” He is our “Counsellor.”
His name is The miqhty God. God come to earth? Is this really what happened that first Christmas Eve? Is this fact or is it mythology? It is fact, not fiction! The Child born was God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten from all eternity, yet born in time of the Virgin Mary. That God should be born of a human mother—seems to be contradictory to the mind of man. How the infinite can be and was incorporated in an earthly form—that defies rational explanation. Yet in Him did dwell all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. God walked this earth in human form. God came and dwelt among His people to bring them salvation. This is the Christmas Good News. Reason not, question not, doubt not—but rejoice and worship!
His name is The everlastinq Father. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” When His disciples wanted to shoo the mothers with their children away, the Lord rebuked them and urged them to permit their little children to come to Him. When they brought the woman caught in adultery to Him, He received her as a loving father would receive his wayward daughter and forgave her. When His beloved disciple, Peter, fell and denied Him, He looked upon Peter as a father who had been hurt by his son. Always tender, always loving, always forgiving—“The everlasting Father.”
And His name shall be called The Prince of Peace. Oh how this name has been abused by statesmen axe politicians, social gospel preachers and moralists. The Prince of Peace He is because He has in fact and reality established peace between God and man through the offering of Himself as the sacrifice for all. In Him is peace, and in Him alone is there hope for peace in this world in which peace-speaking, but sin-motivated men, women, and children live in strife and bitterness with one another.
His names reveal that He is equipped for His work: To establish His Kingdom of Peace with judgement and justice. “Isaiah put it in these words: “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.” The President is confident that his plan of Vietnamizing the war will bring lasting peace. The moratorium demonstrators are confident that unilateral withdrawal will bring peace. The communists shout that if we would but yield to them, there would be peace. Everyone cries for peace, and everyone has his own pet plan to achieve peace. But war and rumor of war shall continue on till the end of time, even as they have continued since the fall of man into sin.
But in the midst of this strife of man against man, race against race, rich against poor, nation against nation the Prince of Peace keeps on establishing His Kingdom of Peace. Each time the Spirit of God convicts a sinner of his sin and works faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior in the heart of that sinner, another citizen is won for the Kingdom of the Lord. Each time a sinner embraces the judgment of God upon His Son on Calvary’s cross for the sins of all mankind and each time a sinner is clothed by faith with the righteousness of Christ the Kingdom makes another advance. And when time passes into eternity that Kingdom shall survive, and its citizens shall inhabit the new heavens and the new earth. Even as the zeal of the Lord brought to pass the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Child and the Son, so shall the zeal of the Lord carry the Kingdom forward to its final glory. Hallelujah and Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.