One reason Handel’s English-language oratorio Messiah is so well known today is the popularity of listening to the chorus at Christmas entitled “For unto us a child is born.” Charles Jennens chose these words for Handel because he understood that Isaiah speaks in this passage of Jesus the Messiah. Last Sunday we saw the verse of Isaiah where we are told that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel, meaning God-with-us. It was a sign of Biblical proportions for believers descended from Israel. They awaited the coming of the Messiah in the womb of a young unmarried virgin girl not necessarily understanding how that might take place. Yet in choosing these words Jennens understands that it was not just a sign for the Jewish people. Jesus is the Messiah for believers from every nation including English-speaking nations who might sing this Christmas: “For unto us a child is born.” We were among those who walking in darkness have seen a great light. Hear the good news Isaiah foretold so very long before the Messiah was even born:
Thanks be to God for unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This child is God-with-us and for us. We might say that here Isaiah unpacks the meaning of the Messiah’s name Immanuel with four titles each with two parts. You might have this engrained on your memory as five titles because Handel’s Messiah splits up the first one into Wonderful and Counselor, but they are really four pairs.
“Wonderful Counselor” says that the one who would be born of a virgin without the help of a man – the one who would be the invisible God in the flesh – would not need to call upon wise men for guidance. The Messiah’s wonder-full birth prepares us for a king with wisdom greater than Solomon.
“Mighty God” also is a title for a Messianic king who is no ordinary human being but God Himself in the flesh. That He is “mighty” emphasizes that He is a champion king – the strong man who leads us in battle and fights for us and on our behalf and even in our place.
“Everlasting Father” again reveals how the Messiah king is God-with-us. A good king is a father to his people just as David was a father to the people of Israel. A good father provides for the welfare of those under his care and protects them like a good king. David did not do this perfectly nor did he remain on the throne forever, but God is an Everlasting Father to His people and the Messiah king is God-with-us. The title even points forward to the next verse since His kingdom will have no end.
“Prince of Peace” refers to how this Messiah king will administer the kingdom of God. The word prince actually gets at this administrative function of the king. Peace is first an attribute of God, but also a description of His kingdom rule. Thus the Messiah is God-with-us because His rule brings peace. The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom, which means more than just the absence of war or conflict. The word describes rest, soundness, wholeness, health, prosperity, and security. (All of these titles show that the Messiah Jesus is God-with-us and for us.)
Indeed, we give thanks for unto us the child Jesus is born and unto us the son Jesus is given. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. He has been given to us. The gift of the Son of God to us was a most gracious gift. We did not deserve it. It is because God gave us the free gift of His Son that God considers us righteous and we strive to live at peace with everyone in so far as it depends on us. It is because of God’s free gift of His Son that we may come under the rule of God – that we belong to the kingdom of heaven. It is a very different kind of kingdom than the nations of the world. Yes, it will never come to an end and there never needs to be another election or another heir to the throne because Jesus sits on the throne of David and over his kingdom forevermore. Moreover, He is a king given to us – not just to the Jewish people, not just to Greeks and Romans, not even just to us English-speaking people today, but given to us fallen human beings of every people, nation, land, and language.
For we all live in a land of deep darkness and Jesus is the light shining in that darkness.
Isaiah spoke of hope for territory once part of Israel but now plagued by darkness to the people of Judah who themselves walked in darkness and needed hope. He mentions the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, named for the tribes of Israel that once settled there. These lands had become despised by the people of Judah because those awful Gentiles now lived there. It was a land of deep darkness. Yet the people of Judah also were sinners before God. They were living in darkness; they were dead in their sins; they did not trust in God but instead trusted in the war horses and great army of Assyria. But in the very areas they despised as filled with awful people, God promises that a new light will shine. It is a promise that the Gospel of Matthew tells us was fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus. Isaiah also sees a great victory like that of Gideon over the Midianites in the book of Judges. He sees the rod of the oppressor who is Satan broken. Satan had been able to deceive the nations before the gospel went out to them, he was able to keep them in the dark, he was able to keep them from seeing the truth, but the champion king who is Jesus would crush the head of the serpent and break the serpent’s yoke. Indeed, Satan’s power over the nations has been broken and many Jews and Gentiles both have seen the light.
The same light now shines in this country and in those places we might think are plagued by deep darkness and populated by pagan peoples. You who believe in Jesus know that apart from Him you would be living in darkness and dead in your sins. You contributed nothing to your salvation as dead people groping about in the dark. Jesus was given to you as an unconditional free gift. So now we don’t get to pretend that we are worthy of the gift of Jesus because we live in a nation where the light of Jesus once shined brightly or because we live in a nation where Christmas is still celebrated or because we might think Americans are more civilized than other peoples. Jesus is a king born to us fallen human beings of every land. Jesus is the king given to believers from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, Australia, and North America, regardless of what earthly government claims us as citizens. Jesus the king is with us as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. So this week go tell your next door neighbor and someone from a despised foreign land the good news for unto us a child is born and a son is given. Amen.