Rev. David Heim
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.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace (Isaiah 9:6-7a)
The prophet Isaiah’s initial forecast for the land of Judah is unremittingly gloomy. He calls out a faithless king who is leading the people to destruction. So it’s a surprise when the prophet offers this word of hope: a new king is on the way, already born, who will govern with godly wisdom and might.
Handel’s setting of this text in Messiah emphasizes the words “unto us.” The music underscores the message that the child is born “for us,” that is, for the sake of the people he will rule over, not for his own glory or might. In the birth of this child, God is acting on behalf of God’s people.
The traits of the one who will be king mark him as an ideal leader for any age: wise and powerful, exhibiting fatherly care and ushering in a lasting peace. Yet Isaiah’s words outrun the description of any earthly king, even one close to God’s heart. Can even the most fatherly of kings be an Everlasting Father or a Mighty God? Can any human king bring “endless” peace?
Jesus is the king born “for us”—the true and ultimate king of the universe. And yet as we apply these words of Isaiah to Jesus, we find that Jesus rearranges their meaning in surprising ways. Jesus sits on no earthly throne and exerts no coercive power. His might is not that of armies, and the peace he brings is not won by shrewd negotiation or military might. His authority and power are enacted in a life of service that leads to a cross—for us.
O Lord, in our times of gloom, when human possibilities run out, act again for us. Rule over us and send us your wisdom, power, compassion, and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.