A Royal Inauguration
James C. Denison
Christmas is the season for miracles. Someone with too much time on his hands has calculated that if Santa brought a Beanie Baby to every child on earth, his sleigh would weigh 333,333 tons. He needs 214,206 reindeer to pull that sleigh (plus Rudolph, of course). To deliver his gifts in one night, Santa has to make 822.6 visits per second, sleighing at 3,000 times the speed of sound. It’s a miracle that all his toys get delivered each Christmas.
We need more miracles from Santa this year, don’t we? You don’t need me to depress you with the week’s reports of continuing financial crisis, the terrorist attack in India, threats made against New York City’s subways, job losses close to home.
While President-elect Obama is announcing financial advisors in preparation for his inauguration in January, we don’t have to wait to learn about the administration of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has already been installed on the throne of the universe. We have never needed the help of this Wonderful Counselor more than we do today. Where do you want his counsel this morning? How can it be yours?
Admit that you need a counselor
Let’s begin with good news for hard times. Isaiah’s promise that a child was coming to be inaugurated as the Messiah was announced to a nation in crisis.
Their world was at war, as ours is today. Assyrian would soon destroy the ten northern tribes of Israel and threaten the southern nation of Judah. Babylon would then overthrow Assyria and enslave Judah for 70 years. War clouds were brewing, with no blue sky in sight.
In the face of such chaos and calamity, the people were seeking counsel from everyone but God. They turned to “mediums and spiritists,” consulting “the dead on behalf of the living” (Isaiah 8:19). They were ignorant of the “law and testimony,” the revealed word of God (v. 20). As a result, they saw “only distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (v. 22).
Now they are “walking in darkness” and “living in the land of the shadow of death” (9:2). They feel the “yoke that burdens them,” the “bar across their shoulders,” the “rod of their oppressor” (v. 4). They have known the “warrior’s boot used in battle” and the “garment rolled in blood” (v. 5). Their nation was in chaos, distress, spiritual confusion.
To them and to us, the Lord promises a “Wonderful Counselor.” “Wonderful” is used throughout the Hebrew Bible to describe God and his works. It means “so full of wonder as to be divinely miraculous.” “Counselor” describes a person of such wisdom that he advises kings, the wisest man in the land. The words together can be translated, “He who plans wonderful things.”
Think of all the ways Jesus proved Isaiah right. As a boy of 12, his wisdom confounded the greatest scholars of his nation. Repeatedly the Gospels report that Jesus knew the thoughts of men before they spoke them. When he was accosted by the sharpest lawyers and debaters of his day, he left them defeated and astounded.
As the God of the universe, his wisdom transcends all time. This Counselor knows what the markets will do on Monday and two years from Monday. He knows what will happen in Iraq and Afghanistan and with your job and health and family. He has all of eternity to hear your next prayer and to advise your next decision.
But you must seek his help, of course. A counselor can’t do much for your marriage unless you’ll first admit that you need counseling. A husband or wife dragged into the counselor’s office is not going to experience much help.
If you think that you can solve your problems in your wisdom, you won’t seek God’s. If you buy into the self-sufficiency gospel of our contemporary culture, you’ll leave this sanctuary in the same shape as when you entered it.
If you’re listening to this sermon just because it’s Sunday rather than because you know you need a word from God, I won’t say much today that you’ll remember tomorrow. That’s why Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with the observation, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” literally “blessed are those who know their need of God” (Matthew 5:3). If they didn’t know they needed what he would say, they would miss his wisdom. So will we.
The first step to getting help from the Wonderful Counselor is admitting that you need such a counselor. Why do you?
Why do you need this counselor?
We’ve seen the good news: the God of the universe is ready to be your Wonderful Counselor. Now let’s ask some hard questions. First: why should we trust him? If the Christ of Christmas is such a wonderful counselor, if God is truly on his throne, if Jesus is really omniscient and all-loving and all-powerful, why is his creation so broken?
Many of us ask that hard question every day. We know we should love and trust the God who made us, but the rest of his creation doesn’t often inspire such a commitment.
The atheist Sam Harris says that a single innocent, suffering child anywhere in the universe calls into question the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God. Of course it does. If Jesus is such a Wonderful Counselor, why are times so hard? Why is there so much innocent suffering in a world created by such a wise God?
I was once having such a discussion with a skeptical friend, thinking of all the ways I could justify God’s wisdom with regard to the problems in our world today. You’ve heard the familiar arguments: God made us with free will so we could choose to go to heaven; when we misuse our freedom, the fault is not God’s but ours.
And that’s true for suffering we deserve, as when a drunk driver smashes his car. But it doesn’t help much with innocent suffering, as when a drunk driver smashes your car. It doesn’t explain why greed on Wall Street has to traumatize the global financial system and cost you your job or your pension.