Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Lessons: Isaiah

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:2,6–7)

This is one of the most popular prophecies cited during Advent. Isaiah tells the people of Israel that God will send a Messiah to them to set them free from their enemies and to make them a good and prosperous nation once more. They will rejoice, Isaiah says, as people rejoice when they bring in a plentiful harvest. Many Christians find this passage to be one of the most beautiful and inspiring messages in the entire Bible.

Yet, when Jesus was born, not everyone reacted with joy. Herod sent soldiers to kill all the young boys because he thought Jesus might threaten his rule. Jesus made many powerful enemies during his ministry, and those enemies eventually brought about his crucifixion. There was no joy on the day that the chief priests handed Jesus over to Pilate. These leaders saw nothing of Isaiah's promise in Jesus, perhaps because they didn't truly understand what Isaiah's words meant.

In essence, Isaiah promised that God would give the people a wise, mighty, merciful, and eternal king. He would provide someone who would rule over the people justly, someone who would take care of them and give them a bountiful future. That's not necessarily the promise that Jesus' enemies wanted, however. Humans have always been a "stiff-necked people" who frequently would rather do things recklessly our own way than follow someone else—even God—obediently. Do we really need advice from a wonderful counselor? Do we truly want the mighty God among us taking control of our lives or an everlasting father to tell us what to do? Do we want a prince to bring us peace, or would we rather keep fueling our endless bickering and continue to jockey for power and position amongst ourselves?

God's promise through Isaiah is extremely noble, and we are not always mature enough to appreciate it. We worry that submitting to a king, even a perfect king like Jesus, would inhibit our freedom to do whatever we want, and the promises of a peaceful and fruitful existence aren't always enough to take that sour taste out of our mouths. In many ways, we are just like Adam and Eve, unimpressed with the blessed reality of Eden when the tantalizing possibility of absolute autonomy lies before us. What do we need with a generous and merciful God if we have already convinced ourselves that we should be able to do just as well on our own? All too often we resent God's interference instead of reacting with the joy that Isaiah proclaims. Jesus is not a president and does not reign at our consent. He is the everlasting king of all the Earth whether we like it or not, and that can be difficult for us to swallow in our misled pride.

Every day we each have the chance to deal with this passage from Isaiah. Jesus is with us even now, ruling over our lives and giving us good advice that will lead us down the path to righteousness. The question we constantly face is whether to welcome Jesus' dominion in our lives or to resent and reject it. Do we want a good king, or do we want to be bad kings ourselves? On the days when I see the truth of God's mercy for the incredible gift it is, I do feel the joy that Isaiah promised. I follow Jesus with jubilation and truly feel like someone who has emerged from darkness to see a great light. The fact that I have a Lord, redeemer, and friend in Jesus can seem wonderfully overwhelming. Those are the days when I am closest to God and when my soul is the healthiest. Those are the days when I feel most blessed. I want to have more of those days and to commit myself totally to Isaiah's promise.

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