Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sermon: Isaiah 9:1-7 The Royal Baby


Among all the bad news stories at the minute, there has been one good news story: the announcement of the forthcoming royal birth. You can’t have failed to have seen it on the news - Prince William and Princess Kate (Katherine) are expecting a baby.

Photographers and TV cameras were camped outside the hospital where Kate was being treated for her severe morning sickness. Everyone wanted all the details. For the next few months, you can expect the ‘royal bump watch’ to continue, tracking the progress of the pregnancy.

In a time of recession, and violence, and redundancies, it’s been good to get some good news. The mood of the newsreaders lifts. There are smiles all round. A baby is on its way!

Our reading this morning also contains the news of a royal birth. Just as now, the people were in dark and dreary circumstances. The people are described as walking in darkness, living in a land of deep darkness. It’s even worse than the way the nights are drawing in; even worse than a friend who’s a missionary in Sweden, where some days they don’t even get daylight. They’re caught in deep darkness. No hope, only despair. (Remember, this is from the time before street lights or powerful torches.)

Isaiah says that they will experience a turnaround. ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.’ (2) It’s the difference between night and day; darkness and light - the change being brought about through this special announcement. For those in darkness, the baby will bring light.

In verses three to five, we see the spreading effects of the light, as well as the cause of it: ‘You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.’

Before there was only despair, but the new baby will bring joy. The rejoicing will be like the joy that comes when harvest is gathered in; the joy that comes when victory in battle has been won, and you’re sharing the spoils of war. It’s a dramatic turn around - and all because the victory has been won. Look with me at verse 4: ‘For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.’ Isaiah looks back to a time when Israel had defeated the Midianites, and says that this new victory will be like that one.

No longer will God’s people be in slavery; no longer will they be commanded by an enemy. They’re pictured like oxen with the yoke of their burden, slaving for their oppressor. The yoke will be broken; the rod will be shattered. God’s people will be free, as they share in the victory.

Verse 5 pictures a great bonfire of all the soldiers’ uniform and kit. It’s not needed any more; it’s burned as fuel for the fire. Do you know the John Lennon song ‘Merry Christmas (War is Over)’? I’ll not try to sing it, but this is in effect what Isaiah is promising - war is over; and all because of the birth of this baby.

Is it any wonder there is rejoicing? The victory is within reach; violence and slavery and oppression are almost finished. Where once there was despair; there is now hope and joy.

The news coverage of Kate’s pregnancy is already reaching fever pitch. It doesn’t matter whether the baby will be a boy or a girl - the law is being changed to make it the firstborn child becomes monarch, rather than the oldest boy (even if he has older sisters). So Kate’s baby will potentially be King or Queen. This is our future monarch!

So with Isaiah. Several times he reminds us of just what this baby will do: ‘authority rests on his shoulders’ (6); ‘His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.’ (7) This baby is the king, in the line of David, who will establish justice and righteousness - not just for a little time, but for ever and ever.

For this eternal peace, we need an eternal king - not just a long line of feeble kings, some good, some disappointing. This baby will be the eternal king, forever to reign on the throne. A reign that will make Queen Elizabeth’s reign seem like a blink of the eye.

Now how is this possible? Are these not huge claims? Could this really happen? Is there such a candidate to take the throne and bring peace and rule forever?

Already there is speculation as to the name of William and Kate’s new baby. We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but already suggestions have been given as to what it might be called. In verse 6, we discover the names given to this new baby: ‘For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’

The baby king is the Wonderful Counsellor - now, that’s not a lovely local politician, not a councillor, but a Counsellor - one who draws alongside, who provides wisdom, who helps in time of need. He’s also the Mighty God - you see, this is no ordinary baby, but God himself stepping down to be born as a baby, still powerful and mighty. The third title, Everlasting Father, shows the baby as the one who is in the position of authority, the father of the nation, for ever. Prince of Peace - the baby brings peace.

Taken together, these names point us to the identity of the baby King, and show what he has done for us. You see, we are the people walking in darkness, apart from God we have no hope. Jesus, the light of the world stepped down into our darkness to rescue us. Our darkness is the realm of Satan, the prince of darkness, to whom we are bound as slaves, serving him in our slavery to sin. But Jesus has won the victory against sin, the world and the devil through the cross, giving us joy and gladness, and freedom and peace.

It’s why Satan tried to use Herod to destroy the baby Jesus in Matthew 2 in the slaughter of the innocents. But Jesus was spared, and went on to win the victory.

Isaiah points us to the manger of Bethlehem, to the baby lying in the straw. But as you approach this Christmas, don’t just see a baby. Don’t leave him as a baby. Because this seemingly helpless, frail baby, is also the Wonderful Counsellor; the Mighty God; the Everlasting Father; the Prince of Peace.

The baby grew up to live and die to bring us peace; and reigns in heaven for ever and ever. Christ the king offers us his peace, as his light shines into the darkness of our hearts. As that John Lennon song suggests: ‘Merry Christmas: War is over, if you want it; war is over now.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 9th December 2012.

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