Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sermon: Isaiah 9:6 Nativity Names

When a baby is born, there seems to be a few questions which are always asked. When was the baby born? How heavy was the baby? And what are they calling it? And so when you hear those details, they are committed to memory, to share with whoever asks those self same questions!

In our readings tonight, we hear of two birth announcements, both for the same birth. One is made after it happens, the way birth announcements normally work - when the angels announce the good news to the shepherds; but the other announcement was made about 700 years before the baby was born. Imagine, that those words of Isaiah were written down so long before the event, and yet he gets the details spot on.

Forget about what weight the baby was - it probably doesn’t matter. Isaiah focuses in on the important question - what are they calling it? In verse 6, we’re given the names of the child born to us, the son given to us. But these aren’t the usual sort of names you might hear in the school roll call; you wouldn’t get these names being shouted in the park or the playground. Speaking of unusual and rare names - it seems that the name Gary could become extinct: only 33 babies born in the UK in 2014 were called Gary. Us Garys are an endangered species!

But rather than being just rarely used, and unusual, the names we find in Isaiah 9:6 are unique names, names for only one person in the whole of history, names that wouldn’t fit anyone else. (You know the way some people say, oh, you look like a Gertrude, or you don’t look like a Colin...). Well these names fit this baby of Bethlehem. They tell us who is in the manger.

First up, he is the Wonderful Counsellor. Now, that’s not a lovely local member of the district council - this Counsellor provides wonderful counsel. He’s one who draws alongside, who stands with you, who provides wisdom, giving help in time of need. Remember when some of the crowds will leave when Jesus says some hard things in John 6? Jesus says to the twelve, will you also leave? Peter answers, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ If you’re wondering about the future; if you’re unsure where to turn; if you need some wisdom - come to the Wonderful Counsellor, the fount of wisdom.

This baby is also the Mighty God. This is no ordinary baby - this is God himself, stepping down to be born as a baby, still powerful and mighty. It doesn’t take long to think of the ways in which this baby will show his power - as he walks on water; as he calms the storm; as he drives out diseases, and makes the lame leap for joy. God has come near, and is lying in the manger. He is almighty, all-powerful, and can do all things. What is it you need him to do? Come to the Mighty God, the source of power.

Thirdly, we see that this baby is the Everlasting Father, or as some would suggest, ‘Father of eternity’. He is in the position of authority for all eternity. Indeed, as Isaiah goes on to say, ‘of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.’ We’re so used to things having expiry dates - the first mince pies that Tesco had on their shelves back in September would be out of date by now! We update our cars and clothes. But the kingdom of Jesus goes on for eternity, and we’re invited to be with him. Come to the Everlasting Father, and worship him now and forevermore.

The final name for the baby is Prince of Peace. The baby lying in the manger is the one who brings peace. That’s what the host of angels confirmed, as they sang ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ In a world of war, we long for the peace that he brings. Even in recent days, when we hear of the Berlin lorry attack; fighting in Aleppo in Syria; as well as the places that don’t make it into the news, or which we’ve simply forgotten about; we long for peace.

The baby in the manger is the one who brings peace, because he gave himself for us rebels, to bring us back to God and bring an end to our conflict. That’s why, on the night we remember his birth, we also make sure to remember his death. Peace comes through the death of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah points us to the manger of Bethlehem, to the baby lying in the straw. But as you pause to remember, don’t just see a baby. Don’t leave him as a baby. BEcause this little baby is 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 at the Christmas Eve Communion in Aghavea Parish Church on Saturday 24th December 2016.

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