Monday 5 December 2022


For 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, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.  (Isaiah 9:6-7)  

Every year, during Advent and at Christmas we hear these words. They are words that echo down the centuries to us from ancient Jerusalem, words from the prophet uttered by God through Isaiah four hundred years before the birth of Jesus. But these words, Isaiah’s prophesy gave hope and comfort, all those centuries ago, to a people who were facing an uncertain future to say the least. To not put too fine a point on it, the people of Israel and Judah would eventually be conquered, enslaved, and taken away from their homeland.

And we too, like them, live in an ever more changing and uncertain world, like those people of the Old Testament, when we look out onto our own world as it is today, we should be able to see the parallels in terms of uncertainty, where food, security, peace and freedom is precarious, and like those people of the Old Testament and their king, we too can witness a loss of faith where we can see our society moving away from God. In fact, in Britain and in much of the West, God has been closed down in the hearts of minds of most people. Even our own King Charles III has abandoned the Christian God, the one true God. He prefers to talk about faiths instead of the faith.

Well, we recall that story of Ahaz, the King of Judah to whom Isaiah tried to minister too, that king who God wanted to bless with a sign, that king who tried the patience of Isaiah by refusing to accept that offer from God that the prophet conveyed to him leading Isaiah to say to him, ‘Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, (said Isaiah to Ahaz) the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child she will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means “God is with us”). The prophesy of that sign was made without the king’s request or even his consent, for we can be sure that he certainly didn’t want to hear it.

What we had here in God’s prophesy, his promised action was a twofold approach. In the first instance we have a king and therefore a nation under judgement, because the hearts and minds of this nation have been closed to God a nation and a king that God had but no choice to abandon, to its fate. God simply said, ‘Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.’ The twofold approach lies in the second part of the prophesy, that such abandonment would not be forever, that Jerusalem would not be abandoned forever because in spite of everything the prophesy gave hope and a promise in that the sign foretold of a child born of a virgin, a child born to be king who’s name would be Immanuel, the Son of God; meaning, ‘God with us.’ We must see that in spite of the seeming ever presence of evil and the darkness of despair, ultimately God is in control.

Our text this morning opened up with these words, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder.’ ‘The government shall be on his shoulder.’ Now, that’s the word we should be interested in ‘government’. Look how that word is prioritised in Isaiah’s prophesy: government, ‘the government shall be on his shoulders,’ government, it speaks to me of at least three components: leadership, administration and management, leadership being the most important. Someone once said words to the effect that people get the government they deserve. Perhaps they do, but things are never quite so simple as that. The role of government is essential in informing people’s decisions, but what can people do when they are made subject to saturation propaganda, as they are today and as they were in the last two years, made subject to lockdown when billions was spent on the psychological manipulation of the masses and those who objected came up against the repressive power of the state, the police and the army. This is always the response of corrupt leaders when dissenting voices speak power to truth. Even churches get locked down and church leaders get imprisoned as they did in Canada at the time as they continue to do in China. Under these conditions it’s not easy for those who remain faithful to God, to Biblical truth to take a stand and to hold firm.

In this time of Advent, in these weeks now the darkest months of the year, this season behoves us not merely to wait for the joy and celebration of Christmas and to reflect on the state of the world but more importantly - to reflect on ourselves, on our own spiritual lives, our prayer life, and our relationship with God. And the question is, or at least it should be not so much on how much we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, because we know we have if we are honest with ourselves and that should always be a ready confession.

But perhaps the big question should be how much we desire to be with God, how much we desire to serve him, to truly worship and love him, to be witnesses to his glory and in spite of the wickedness of this world, the question should also be how much we would wish to remain resolute in faith. I am not using these words as a general exhortation, or as filler for this sermon, but to point out to you that today you have a choice to decide in case you haven’t already decided, to decide which side you want to be on. There is the easy option, just to go with the world and all its superficial values but faith rather requires us to hold out against it and hold out in the face of doom as that faithful minority have always done. Such people in the Bible were referred to as the faithful remnant and so Isaiah in spite of all the bad news for Israel and Judah said:

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
to bring back the remnant of his people—
those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt;
in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam;
in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.
He will raise a flag among the nations
and assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
from the ends of the earth. (11:11-12)

As Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land so too will come a new leader and so we return to Isaiah’s prophesy:

For 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, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Today, we might ask where the prophetic voice of the Church is today, where is the leadership, where is the voice that can bring hope? I think our experience might show us that whatever we might wish, our experience shows us that events are outside of our control and that political decisions, despite the lip service that is paid to democracy, at the highest levels, decisions are made without our being asked. And when others neither seem to care or to believe, when others despair, God calls us to be that faithful remnant in the world. Without faith there is no future, when the disciples asked Jesus when he the going to restore the kingdom to Israel:

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1 6:7-8).

Likewise in the Gospel of Matthew, we remember that Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

Keep your lamp trimmed and burning.

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.  



 Photograph: The annunciation, University of Gladzor. Wikimedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment