The first time I heard this carol was as a child, the warbles of an elderly great aunt spending too much time on the “com-fo-o-o-ort”!
The only impression it left me with was the one I would do of her singing it, to make my siblings laugh.
Poor Great Aunt L.
Yet today I am so thankful to her for introducing it to me, as adults we look deeper at words and their meaning.
What are these tidings of comfort and joy? And do they still apply today?
In a world where comfort seems to be based on news of a vaccine and joy is practically non-existent, we need the comfort and joy offered by this carol more than ever.
Every year, the world is happy for a fleeting moment to turn its thoughts ‘Bethlehem-ward’. Shops and radios mix Nowells and Hallelujahs with their usual offerings, nativity scenes are in short supply but they do appear occasionally jostled together with large plastic reindeer - a nod to ‘the reason for the season’. But as Christians, we are amazingly blessed and privileged to look beyond the world’s celebrations and extravagances - we see Jesus! Christmas for us is a time to pause and think about the wonder of “Our God, contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man”* as Charles Wesley so beautifully put it.
Isaiah 9 is tidings of comfort and joy that give us hope and peace that are not dependent on lifted restrictions or anything else. The ancient words, given to the prophet by God so many centuries ago, still breathe life and hope into tired, weary hearts today.
“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”
Did your heart thrill as you read those old and familiar words? Or are we too used to hearing them as part of our carol services to ignite in us anything more than a warm feeling of nostalgia...
Let’s dig into this verse, and as we meditate on God’s gift to a broken world, allow the wonder and truth of these words to fill our hearts and flood our souls with joy!
- Jesus has been given - not to angels - but to us, sinful people in desperate need of a Rescuer. The angel acknowledges this truth when they proclaim that “Unto you, is born this day, a Saviour” [Luke 2:11]
‘A child is born’
- That Almighty God, the One who is Alpha and Omega, from beginning to end, the Lord of all Eternity, the glorious Creator and Sustainer should come and live among us, is astounding! As King Solomon so eloquently declares:
“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you.”
[2 Chronicles 6:18]
That this God should come to earth wrapped in the soft flesh of a tiny baby, vulnerable and dependent on His mother’s milk is absolutely staggering!!
And yet, as He is born, we see Christ’s humanity added to His deity.
That He was with the Father from the beginning of time is undeniable, that He also became a man is now a truth that we cannot refute.
'A Son is given'
- not just Mary’s Son, but the Eternal Son of God, given to a lost and hopeless humanity.
He is clearly no ordinary child, the passage goes on to describe a royal Son who rules and reigns as no king has before...
‘...and the government will be on his shoulders...’
Perhaps you read the word government - and groan, but with this King there is no corruption, deceit, or wrong decisions...
Too often when we string the words of this verse together into a character description of our Saviour, we forget to stand still and be awestruck by these amazing revelations!
Jesus is more than a Wonderful Counsellor
He is 'Wonderful'
- literally a thing of wonder - beyond our understanding, miraculous and too great to comprehend! The Hebrew word translated as ‘wonderful’ is ‘pala’ - which comes from the root word for miracle - an unexplained marvel, a phenomenon, something outside the normal course of events.
The birth of our Lord Jesus is a miracle too phenomenal for us to comprehend, His miracles display His divinity but leave us, like His disciples, utterly staggered at His greatness and power! He is 'wonderful' - full of wonder, and we can only wonder at the mystery of God becoming a baby and taking upon Himself all the emotions, weaknesses, and temptations of being a man.
- Like Solomon, a Wise king who advises and rules His people with wisdom, but greater than Solomon - as Jesus doesn’t just have the wisdom from God, He is the wisdom from God!
Think about how Jesus deals with all who come to Him; to the fragile hearts He is tender, to the despised He is welcoming and loving, to the troubled soul He speaks words of calm authority.
“Remember, there is nothing that happens in your daily life, but what was first of all devised in eternity, and counselled by Jesus Christ for your good and in your behalf, that all things might work together for your lasting benefit and profit” - C.H. Spurgeon
- God, the Mighty One.
Sometimes we can think of Father God having the power, and then ‘gentle Jesus’ being all ‘meek and mild’ - but Isaiah 9, proclaims Jesus to be ‘The Mighty One’ - see Him turning water into wine, casting out demons, stilling the raging storm with a Word. Our Jesus is The Mighty One, Mighty to save and mighty to pull you from whatever pit you are in right now.
- the Father of eternity! He is the author and sustainer of our lives and it is Jesus who has made eternal life not just a possibility but a reality for all who put their trust in Him.
'Prince of Peace'
- Not just a Peace-loving Prince, but the Sovereign of Peace.
No Jesus, no peace.
Know Jesus - know peace!
Jesus restores broken relationships, His peace is a healing stream.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God."
And once we know peace with God, we can then know peace with others.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."
Our Lord Jesus is all of these:
Our wise and wonderful Counsellor and Comforter
able to fill us with His wisdom and comfort to cope with these difficult times we find ourselves in.
He is our Mighty God
more than able to carry us, protect, and provide for us through the coming days, weeks, and months.
He is our Everlasting Father
the Father and Author of our salvation, the One who cares for the growth of your soul and the Saviour who draws us closer to Him and holds us safe in His arms
And He is our Prince of Peace
our Jesus, powerful enough to calm the storms that rage in our hearts and minds,
and to bring us peace with God, peace with others,
and peace in the situations we face every day.
Meditating on Him is a wonderful remedy for weariness, surely the words from Isaiah truly are tidings of comfort and joy to tired hearts and exhausted people.
Bible quotations from (c) 2011 New International Version
*God rest ye merry gentlemen, 18th cent. English carol
**Let earth and Heaven combine, Charles Wesley - Public Domain