A Counselor for Chaotic Times
Dr. Jim Denison
Today I have a secret to reveal: my middle name is Clarence. James Clarence Denison. Here’s the story. The oldest Denison male in every family was given the middle name of Irvin, without exception. My father hated that middle name. But he knew the only way my grandfather would allow him to break the tradition was if my grandfather’s first name became my middle name. And the rest is history, with apologies to the two resident members out of our 9,400 members who are similarly named.
Things could always be worse. The full name of Prince Charles of England is Charles Philip Arthur George of the House of Windsor. His titles are: His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales; Knight of the Garter; Knight, Order of the Thistle; Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester; Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay; Earl of Carrick and Baron Renfrew; Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland; Personal Aide-de-Camp to the Queen; and Great Master of the Order of the Bath. And of the rest of the house, I’m sure.
Titles and names can be trivial pursuits. Or they can reveal the inner character and permanent identity of their bearer. The latter is so with the Christ of Christmas. Isaiah named him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Never have we needed such a God more than today.
Newsweek‘s latest cover: “The Hunt for Bin Laden.” Time‘s cover: “Inside the Manhunt.” And they were published Thanksgiving week. The bearded figure most Americans are thinking about this season isn’t Santa Claus. We need peace for a world in pieces.
This morning we’ll begin with the first title of the Christ child, the first promise to us: a counselor for chaotic times. Who needs one today?
Who needs a wise counselor?
As our text opens, seven centuries before Christmas, the world is at war, as ours is today. Assyria will destroy Israel and threaten Judah; then Babylon will overthrow Assyria and enslave Judah for seventy years. War clouds are brewing, and there is no blue sky in sight.
In such chaotic times, the people are seeking counsel from everyone but God. They are turning to “mediums and spiritists,” consulting “the dead on behalf of the living” (8:19). They are ignorant of the “law and testimony,” the revealed word of God (8:20). And so they “see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (8:22).
Our text describes their confusion and chaos further. The people 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 is in chaos, distress, spiritual confusion. They need a Wonderful Counselor.
Are you more afraid than you were on September 10? Afraid of airplanes, tall buildings, and mail? Worried about the future, and your future?
The most recent New England Journal of Medicine reported that ninety percent of Americans admit to symptoms of stress following the September 11 attacks. Post-traumatic stress levels in our country are increasing five fold.
Even before September 11, doctors estimated that 70% of our illnesses are the result of mental stress and worry. And heart specialists listed such stress as the number one cause of heart disease.
Marvin Harris is an anthropologist and the author of America Now. He documents the fact that America’s increase in cults, drug addiction, and suicide is a direct result of a lack of direction and spiritual purpose for our lives.
Boris Becker, the youngest man ever to win the Wimbledon tennis tournament, nearly took his own life a few years ago. Here’s why: “I had won Wimbledon twice before. I was rich, I had all the material possessions I needed—money, cars, women, everything. I know that this is a cliché—it’s the old song of the movie and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string.”
Jack Higgins, the author of The Eagle Has Landed and other bestsellers, was asked, “What would you have liked to have known at the age of 16, which you now know to be true?” His answer: “I would have liked somebody to have told me that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”
How do you feel about your future, your life direction, your purpose? The ladder you’re climbing today? The world you inhabit? Would you like a Wonderful Counselor?
Who is a wise counselor?
“Wonderful” in the Hebrew means “so full of wonder as to be miraculous.” “Counselor” points to a man of such wisdom that he can advise kings, the wisest man in the land.
The words together can be translated, “He who plans wonderful things.” He is a Counselor in his office waiting for your questions and problems. And he is also a Counselor in your office, the God who steps into your history, your world, your life, the proactive Creator who has a plan for your life every day.
One of my favorite promises in God’s word is Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you—plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The maker of all creation has a plan for your life, and it is wonderful. The Christ of Christmas is ready to counsel you, to guide you with the wisdom of God himself.
This was Isaiah’s first name for the baby of Bethlehem. Was he right?
When he was only twelve, he had his first audience with the religious scholars. The result? “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47).
When he taught the people, “they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom?'” they asked (Matthew 13:54).