Date: December 25, 1930
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, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
ONLY five hours more in the Pacific Coast country, only two short hours on the Atlantic seaboard, and another Christmas will be but a memory. A few moments more to linger in the colorful radiance of the Christmas tree, a few moments more to blend our hearts and voices in the cheerful Christmas melodies, a few moments more to enjoy the happiness that comes to our reunited family circles on Christmas, and this day of days from which we unwillingly release our grasp is gone and has given way to the tomorrow, in which, as men resume their wonted activities, the spell of Christmas is often broken, its luster dimmed, its message forgotten.
But Christmas is too wonderfully magnificent to be confined to one solitary, fleeting day. There is rather a deathless significance in this Child of Christmas, a permanent and divinely bestowed gift of God, which brings perpetual happiness, immeasurable and unspeakable, both here and hereafter. And if you have never permitted the star of faith to guide you to Bethlehem; if you have never opened the door of your heart to receive the Christ-child; if with Herod-like determination you have steadfastly tried to stifle the glorification of the Babe in Bethlehem, to what better advantage can I employ these happy moments than to ask you to separate your hearts from all earth-born attachments, to submerge the harsh dissonance of cold doubt and frigid skepticism, to follow the lowly shepherds to that glorious Child in Mary’s arms, and to immortalize Christmas as a hope of perpetual and undying happiness by hearing and believing the divine and unfailing answer to this question, Who is this Child about whom the very universe revolves, in whom the hopes and fears of all the years have found their joyous fulfillment?
Seven centuries before the heavenly messenger aroused the drowsy Judean shepherds, Isaiah, the evangelist of the Old Testament, straining his gaze to the dim and distant horizon, answered this question in better terms than merely mortal lips can find. Casting aside the modern camouflage, which finds in the birth of Jesus Christ only such alien thoughts as the magnificence of motherhood or the glorification of childhood, and probing deep down beneath the externals of our Christmas celebration, he strikes at the very heart and center of a Christ-conscious Christmas, when, in those deathless words beginning, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,” he identifies this Christmas child by these five glorious names, “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” and tells us tonight who this Christ-child is and what He must mean to our modern world after nineteen centuries.
Isaiah calls the Christ-child, first of all, “Wonderful,” or, as we can emphatically reproduce the original, “The Miracle.” Daniel Webster was once asked whether he could understand Christ. Replying in the negative, he declared that, if he could understand Him, there would be nothing to give Jesus faith and divine force and fact. The Christmas-message is thus not an appeal to reason, to be sure; and we breathe an ardent word of thankful prayer that it is something ineffably greater than this. It is an appeal to the truth of God’s love; it is the mystery of God’s becoming man; Divinity putting on humanity; the Creator appearing as creature; the eternal Son of God incarnate as the Son of Man. In an age when men glibly and confidently prate about the twilight of Christianity, as they compose their obituaries on the Biblical truth, the cold and calculating rationalizing of reason bids them ask with age-old skepticism, “How can these things be? How can this Child, called the ‘Wonderful,’ be both divine and human, both a helpless babe and the Ruler of the universe,” of whom our text says, “The government shall be upon His shoulder,” implying that He directs the affairs of men, controls the forces of nature, and governs this vast universe? But as the first Christmas-gifts were expressive of the willing tribute which scientific thought paid to religious verities, so today, when we daily accept uncounted arrangements and innumerable procedures as beyond the ken of the most enlightened mind, let no one who hears the Christmas evangel indulge in skeptical quibbles or sophisticated sneers, but let us rather rejoice that instead of understanding we must only believe and kneel down before this Wonder of the Ages to offer, as Magi-minded Christians, the pure gold of our faith, the fragrant frankincense of our hope, and the mystic myrrh of our love.
But the wonder of this Child, the supreme miracle in the history of all lands and ages, becomes intensified when we realize, as I pray God we may all realize on this joyful Christmas Day, that this Babe in the manger is the superhuman solution to the great and universal problem of sin. When the stern demand of God’s holiness tells you, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; when it continues its warning indictment, “All have sinned”; and when it individually emphasizes the weaknesses and inconsistencies that abound in every life and says, as it points the finger of accusation at you, “Thou art the man,”—then to everyone who humbly and gratefully accepts Christmas for what its name implies, the wonder of wonders is accomplished, and they all are assured of this miracle-working love, announced even before the Child’s birth, “He shall save His people from their sins.” There is the glorious wonder of this wonderful Child,—no sin too great, no offense too vile, no wrong too oppressive to be removed freely and completely and for all time by His priceless, deathless love.
The second blessed name of the Christ of Christmas is “The Counselor.” I believe that for many thousands who are listening in tonight the need of a capable, competent counselor has perhaps never been as great as it is on this Christmas Day, when we remind ourselves that the past year has brought to millions a long series of disappointments of various kinds and degrees. You who have gone on year after year with a smug sense of self-satisfaction and with a good deal of confidence in your money power, your brain power, your social power, but who have found that this house of cards in which you have enshrined your happiness has been puffed over by bank failures, financial reverses, and unemployment, and who now look about for someone and something that can effectively lift you out of the labyrinth of hopelessness and helplessness,—you can find a divine Counselor today in Bethlehem. Here is a Counselor who is concerned first and foremost about the soul that lives on after the trinkets and baubles that men clutch so frantically crumble into disappointing dust. Here is the faithful and efficient Counselor, who tells us, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”; that is, get right with God. Remove the barrier that separates you from God and that keeps you away from the inner happiness which alone makes life worth living.
And when you come and ask, “How can I get right with God? How can I remove the impurity of sin from my life?”—great and wonderful Counselor that He is, this Christ tells us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “Believe in Me.” Never has His counsel failed; never is there any problem too intricate for His constructive solution; never is there any sorrow too deep to be healed by the balm of His consoling love. So tonight, when the joy of Christmas stands out in crying contrast to the sorrow that reigns in the hearts of some of my audience, when you think of your own misfortunes, of the gladness that has been turned to sadness through the coming of cold death or through the blasting of long-cherished hopes or through the tragedy that has followed in the wake of grievous sins; look above these difficulties to the Counselor, reposed in Bethlehem’s manger, and believe Him, when He calls out to you, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
“THE MIGHTY GOD.”
The third name of this Wonder-Child is “The Mighty God.” Here, then, we have the real, essential Christ of Christmas; not the Christ whom the barrage of modern oratory and rhetoric likes to picture—a ghastly counterfeit of the world-conquering Son of God; but the Christ who from the lowly beginning at Bethlehem until the bitter, heart-breaking end at Calvary claimed to be, proved to be, and was declared by God to be, God manifest in the flesh. Oh, He had to be God to offer substitution for the overpowering weight of sin and its consequences. He had to be God to give to humanity a hope that was stronger than human power, truer than mortal truth, more hopeful than earth’s strongest hope.
I sometimes wonder whether beneath all the hurry and the scurry of Christmas we realize, even as far as this is humanly possible, the practical meaning of this sublime truth, that God became man, that He lived and walked and had His being here on earth, in the closest contact with sin-stained men. What unutterable love, what indescribable mercy, what unfathomable grace! And what surpassing promise! For does not He who once trod the paths of men give to those who know Him and who love Him and who have been reconciled by His atoning blood the assurance even in today’s turmoil, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”? Think of this priceless Christmas-gift of God’s grace, Immanuel, “God with us.” God with us to turn the night of sin and sorrow into the brilliancy of a radiant day! God with us to lead us on through the devious and difficult paths of life! God with us in the happiness of our homes, in the stern realities of the battle for existence! God with us in the trials and temptations that hear down upon us! God with us as the all-sufficient, all-embracing Friend, Guide, and Savior, now and forevermore!
“THE EVERLASTING FATHER.”
Yes, “forevermore,” because Isaiah’s fourth name for this helpless Infant is “The Everlasting Father.” Paradox though they seem when applied to this Babe of Bethlehem, let us linger for a moment on these two names of majestic import, “Everlasting” and “Father.” Throughout their long and varied existence men have yearned and strained for something firm and unchangeable, for something positive and everlasting, since the highest achievements of human ambitions rise only to fade and wax only to wane. They are here today and gone tomorrow. Even the choicest products of man’s intellectual attainments are ephemeral, hailed in this hour and rejected in the next. But tonight I want you to look with me at this Pillar of the Ages, this changeless Christ for a changing world—Him who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” and find in Him the everlasting Rock of Ages to which, amid the ebb and flow of man’s fluctuating hopes and delusions, you can cling with unending and undying assurance. Friends and their favors may change; your hopes and plans may be shattered and crushed, but here in this Child is God’s answer to your search for eternity, the solution of the mystery of the grave, the promise of Him who says, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” whose eternity is the unfailing pledge of our life after death.
Think of the other word, “Father,” and remember that behind all the love that this word expresses and the confidence that it inspires, leading us to come to Christ as loving children come to their loving father, there is the majesty of power, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the very revelation of God to mankind. When Christ complied with Philip’s request, “Lord, show us the Father,” He answered, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” My friends, I pause to ask you on this Christmas Day, Have you seen the Father in Christ? Remember, if you think you have seen God in any other way; if you think you can accept God without accepting Jesus Christ; if you try to stifle the appeal of the Bible by asserting that you believe in a “Supreme Being” or in “the great Creator” or in “the Father of us all,” and exclude Christ from all this, then you do not know the meaning of Christmas, and you do not know God.
“THE PRINCE OF PEACE.”
But the sweetest note of the Christmas-message comes in Isaiah’s last name for the Christ-child, “The Prince of Peace.” Above all the hatred of a war-torn world the Christmas anthem “Peace on earth” goes out into the world tonight to tell men that the only way to establish peace with our God and peace with our conscience is to come to Christ and to believe that He has effectually and forever removed the discord that exists between the holiness of God and the unholiness of men; that He by His incarnation, by the poverty and suffering to which He as the Lord of lords and the King of kings subjected Himself, satisfied the claims of divine justice and offers to all the benefits of that momentous peace treaty between heaven and earth that has been signed and sealed by His very blood.
What more wonderful privilege could there be on the birthday of this Prince of Peace than to offer in His name, by His command, and with His promise the surpassing gift of this inner, spiritual peace of God? And what greater cause of rejoicing, even in heaven, than this, that some of you within the reach of my voice this evening who are still at war with God, who are still allied with the forces of sin and hell, come to accept peace—not the peace of the world, but the peace of the soul that Christ Himself, our Shiloh, offers, the peace which, because it transforms our inner life, is reechoed in our outer existence. I appeal to you who have never learned the marvelous joy of life that comes when the benediction of Christ’s peace is pronounced upon your sin-free soul; to you who do not know this peace because you do not show it; to you who, although you may to all appearances kneel at the manger this night, nevertheless harbor thoughts of hatred and envy against your fellow-men; to you young people who live in strife and discord with your own fathers and mothers; to you husbands and wives who are permitting the rancor of selfishness and dissatisfaction to mar the beauty of a happy Christian home; to you who professionally promote misunderstanding and bigotry in the lives of men,—I appeal to you and beseech you in the name of the Lord Jesus: Do not let this night draw to its completion without coming to the Christ-child in spirit and in truth, without asking Him for the forgiveness of these sore and besetting evils, and without receiving from Him this priceless, peerless peace of soul and mind. Thus, and thus alone, can Christmas be to you what it should be and what, pray God, it will be—the birthday of Christ, The Prince of Peace, not only in Bethlehem, but also in your innermost heart. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.