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“A Child of Hope for Every Age”
By Rev. Victor Kim
(12-16-18) Cantata Service
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. These are the words of the Cantata from Handel and of course, they are also the words of the prophet Isaiah. We hear these words every Christmas, whether in the words of the beautiful arrangement or from a reading, often on Christmas Eve. And automatically we associate the words of the prophet with the birth of Jesus. But the original context of the prophecy goes back to a time long before Jesus.
We need to go back to a time when the people of Israel were threatened with devastation by the Assyrian army. The King of Israel, Ahaz, had betrayed his people and their God by worshiping idols and putting his trust in human allies rather than God. The destruction that followed at the hands of the Assyrians left the people of Israel in a reality full of pain and abject suffering. It is into this reality that the proclamation of Isaiah is spoken. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined…for a child has been born for us, a son given to us… The prophecy is of a divine reversal, that light will shine in the darkness, that a child will be born, a son given, one on whom authority will rest, who will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In the place of death will be new birth, new opportunities for fullness of life and the child will lead the people in the ways of peace and justice. It is God who has saved his people and it will be God will save them again. Isaiah reminds the people of Israel that only by looking to the divine, the God of their ancestors, can the people be guaranteed the salvation they need to have the fullness of life for which they yearn. And it is the same guarantee upon which the lives of God’s people in this present age is based. While our context is different from what the people of Israel faced those many years ago, the need for assurance is the same for us today.
The forces that deplete life, that threaten human dignity and worth, that violate the intention of God for human life are all around us. Whether in the form of racism, poverty, homelessness, violence, greed, exploitation, any of a myriad of ills fueled by the human desire to seek self-gain at the expense of others, darkness threatens the life God intends. And let’s face it, even the celebration of Christmas isn’t exempt from this threat. Even in this season of light, the darkness gathers around us. But the promise of God to the people then, is the promise of God to the people, to us, now. Except our context is one in which we know the one who is the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness did not, and will not, overcome it. We, along with Handel, and with the countless numbers of Christians over the centuries, believe that the words of Isaiah are also for us, that they also point to not just any child, not just any king, but the one child, the one king, the one Son of God, Jesus the Christ, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And this Jesus isn’t only restricted to Christmastime. When the lights are taken down and the trees are recycled, when the gifts are opened and the decorations put away, when the season passes and life moves on, we don’t get to tuck baby Jesus away with the rest of the decorations. Jesus remains. The gift of this child is that he is a child of hope for every age. Whenever the darkness threatens, however it is manifested, whether by governments, armies, systems of exploitation that prize profit above everything, by forces that spread fear so that they can divide and conquer, whenever people walk in darkness, the promise of God is that of salvation, borne of God’s love and grace, which is the gift of God to every child of God born in the image of God.
The words of Isaiah don’t only point to a future in which God will fulfill God’s promise, but also to the fact that God acts in the present, in the here and now. God’s light shines in the darkness, God’s son has been born for us, given to us and his authority shall grow continually…and the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
This is not only a claim for Christmas but is the nature of our God. In a couple of weeks Christmas will be over for another year, but the love of God in Jesus Christ, the child of hope for every age, will continue to shine wherever there is darkness, and the light will never be overcome. Thanks be to God, Amen.
Written by Rev. Victor Kim
Preached on 16 December 2018
at Richmond Presbyterian Church.