“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, Counseller,
“The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
— Isaiah 9:6
The Jewish people must have thought that Isaiah had gone mad.
Written some 700 years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah lived at a time when his people were desperate for a savior. Throughout history, Jews suffered tremendous persecution, frequently enslaved and treated brutally. They constantly watched and waited for the one who would come to conquer their enemies once and for all, as was promised to their forefather Abraham so many years earlier.
They imagined their savior would come as a mighty warrior-king who would trample their persecutors, establishing his kingdom above all others. Most were certain their salvation would be complete and final, won in battle through a fearless leader who the people would adore, allowing them to finally live in everlasting peace and prosperity.
Then along comes Isaiah, a great prophet, respected and even revered. But the prophet had a vision and told the people that not only would their savior come as a tiny, helpless baby born in poverty but that they also would view him as despicable. As Isaiah wrote, recorded in Chapter 53, Verse 3:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows,
“and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him;
“he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
“Despised? Isaiah, you are a fool,” they must have cried. “Our savior will be worshipped and adored!”
Isaiah always warned of the consequences that came with disobeying God, and he was known as a bearer of bad news. Just as the people refused to listen to his warnings, they missed the hope and promise of the Christ child of whom he wrote.
After Isaiah died, the Jewish people grew in number. Generations came and went, and Scripture was ignored or twisted into teachings that were much more palatable. By the time Jesus was born, very few were familiar with the ancient writings. Others became more enamored with religious ritual than simple truth.
Such is the story of mankind, including much of the Christian church. The need and quest for truth are quickly eclipsed by our egos and desire to be in control: to be our own arbitrators of truth and justice. So we ignore Scripture and replace it with religiosity and man-made rules. We, in fact, imagine that we are not in need of a savior at all.
Just as the Jewish people and so many gentiles missed the true Jesus at the time of his life on earth, America as a “Christian nation” misses Jesus today.
Although the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, in most homes it sits covered in dust, long forgotten on a crowded bookshelf or in a box placed in the attic long ago. And even though our entire nation and much of the rest of the world still celebrate “something” on Dec. 25, the vast majority of us cannot explain what that something is.
Just like the Bible, we can’t quite bring ourselves to throw out the holiday altogether. We sense somewhere deep in our soul that there must be more to it. But preferring our own ideas of justice and truth, we bury the meaning of Christmas in a mound of presents and tinsel and vast commercialism, and now even simply refer to it as a “holiday.” We are so good at allowing ourselves to be deceived that we’ve forgotten the meaning and the origin of the word “holiday.”
A holiday is a “holy day,” and the holy day we celebrate this week is called Christmas.
The origin of Christmas is a day set aside to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, the Messiah, the Son who God sent to save the Jewish people and all who will believe. Miraculously, this King of Kings is God incarnate, and he is constantly pursuing a personal relationship with you and me.
If we dare to take the time to read the Old Testament, we see that the real struggle the Jewish people faced was their propensity to forget God and become their own arbitrators of truth. In so doing, they fell victim to the consequences of their choices and to their enemies. In their vanity, they created their own versions of a savior in their imaginations, causing them to miss the child who did not fit their definition of what success looks like.
Most of us still do that.
We have something more than the ancient Jewish people did. So we are without excuse. In addition to the writings of not just Isaiah but also of Jeremiah, and David’s Psalms, and the entire Old Testament pointing to Jesus, we also have the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the entire New Testament, showing that Jesus fulfilled those ancient prophecies.
If we dare to dust off the Bible and study it with humble hearts and open minds, we see how the entire book points to Jesus as the one we have been waiting for. Isaiah tells us, as recorded in Chapter 53:5-6, how it is not through following our own rules but accepting the suffering of Christ that gives us the freedom we all so desperately desire:
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:
“the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;
“and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Only through opening our hearts to Jesus and the story of his birth, life, death and Resurrection can we come full circle to understanding the poetic words of truth written by Isaiah so long ago. The joy that comes with the forgiveness that only Jesus can give will be ours. Then we will be able to join Isaiah in calling Jesus our “Wonderful Counseller, Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Make this be your Christmas to accept God’s gift of the Savior.
This column first appeared in The Washington Times