For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be on His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Father of an Everlasting age, 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 henceforth even forever.--ISAIAH ix. 6, 7.
In the time when the prophet Isaiah wrote this prophecy, everything round him was exactly opposite to his words. The king of Judaea, the prophet's country, was not reigning in righteousness. He was an unrighteous and wicked governor. The princes and great men were not ruling in judgment. They were unjust and covetous; they took bribes, and sold justice for money. They were oppressors, grinding down the poor, and defrauding those below them. So that the weak, and poor, and needy had no one to right them, no one to take their part. There was no man to feel for them, and defend them, and be a hiding-place and a covert for them from their cruel tyrants; no man to comfort and refresh them as rivers of water refresh a dry place, or the shadow of a great rock comforts the sunburnt traveller in the weary deserts.
Neither were these very poor oppressed people of the Jews in a right state of mind. They were ignorant and stupid, given to worship false gods. They had eyes, and yet could not use them to see that, as the psalm told us this morning, the heavens declared the glory of God, and the firmament showed His handiwork. They were worshipping the sun, and moon, and stars, in stead of the Lord God who made them. They were brutish too, and would not listen to teaching. They had ears, and yet would not hearken with them to God's prophets. They were rash, too, living from hand to mouth, discontented, and violent, as ignorant poor people will be in evil times. And they were stammerers--not with their tongue, but with their minds and thoughts. They were miserable; but they could not tell why. They were full of discontent and longings; but they could not put them into words. They did not know how to pray, how to open their hearts to God or to man. They knew of no one who could understand them and their sorrows; they could not understand them themselves, much less put them into words. They were altogether confused and stupefied; just in the same state, in a word, as the poor negro slaves in America, and the heathens ay, and the Christians too, are in, in all the countries of the world which do not know the good news of Christmas- day or have forgotten it and disobeyed it.
But Isaiah had God's Spirit with him; the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of holiness, righteousness, justice. And that Holy Spirit convinced him of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment, as He convinces every man who gives himself up humbly to God's teaching.
First, the Spirit convinced Isaiah of sin. He made him feel that the state of his country was wrong. And He made him feel why it was wrong; namely, because the men in it were wrong; because they were thinking wrong notions, feeling wrong feelings, doing wrong things; and that wrong was sin; and that sin was falling short of being what a man was made, and what every man ought to be, namely, the likeness and glory of God; and that so his countrymen the Jews, one and all, had sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Next, He convinced Isaiah of righteousness. He made Isaiah feel and be sure that God was righteous; that God was no unjust Lord, like the wicked king of the Jews; that such evil doings as are going on were hateful to Him; that all that covetousness, oppression, taking of bribes, drunkenness, deceit, ignorance, stupid rashness and folly, of which the land was full, were hateful to God. He must hate them, for He was a righteous and a good God. They ought not to be there. For man, every man from the king on his throne to the poor labourer in the field, was meant to be righteous and good as God is. "But how will it be altered?" thought Isaiah to himself. "What hope for this poor miserable sinful world? People are meant to be righteous and good: but who will make them so? The king and his princes are meant to be righteous and good, but who will set them a pattern? When will there be a really good king, who will be an example to all in authority; who will teach men to do right, and compel and force them not to do wrong?"
And then the Holy Spirit of God answered that anxious question of Isaiah's, and convinced him of judgment.
Yes, he felt sure; he did not know why he felt so sure: but he did feel sure; God's Spirit in his heart made him feel sure, that in some way or other, some day or other, the Lord God would come to judgment, to judge the wicked princes and rulers of this world, and cast them out. It must be so. God was a righteous God. He would not endure these unrighteous doings for ever. He was not careless about this poor sinful world, and about all the sinful down-trodden ignorant men, and women, and children in it. He would take the matter into His own hands. He would show that He was Lord and Master. If kings would not reign in righteousness, He would come and reign in righteousness Himself. He would appoint princes under Him, who would rule in judgment. And He would show men what true righteousness was; what the pattern of a true ruler was; namely, to be able to feel for the poor, and the afflicted, and the needy, to understand the wants, and sorrows, and doubts, and fears of the lowest and the meanest; in short, to be a man, a true, perfect man, with a man's heart, a man's pity, a man's fellow-feeling in Him. Yes. The Lord God would show Himself. He would set His righteous King to govern. And yet Isaiah did not know how, but he saw plainly that it must be so, that same righteous King, who was to set the world right, would be a MAN. It would be a man who was to be a hiding-place from the storm and a covert from the tempest. A man who would understand man, and teach men their duty.
Then the eyes of the blind would see, and the ears of those who heard should hearken; for they would hear a loving human voice, the voice of One who knew what was in man, who could tell them just what they wanted to know, and put His teaching into the shape in which it would sink most easily and deeply into their hearts. And then the hearts of the rash would understand knowledge; and the tongue of the stammerers would speak plainly. There will be no more confused cries from poor ignorant brutish oppressed people, like the cries of dumb beasts in pain; for He who was coming would give them words to utter their sorrows in. He would teach them how to speak to man and God. He would teach them how to pray, and when they prayed to say, "Our Father which art in heaven."
Then the vile person would be no more called bountiful, or the churl called liberal: flattery and cringing to the evil great would be at an end. The people would have sense to see the truth about right and wrong, and courage to speak it. Men would then be held for what they really were, and honoured and despised according to their true merits. Yes, said Isaiah, we shall be delivered from our wicked king and princes, from the heathen Assyrian armies, who fancy that they are going to sweep us out of our own land with fire and sword; from our own sins, and ignorance, and infidelity, and rashness. We shall be delivered from them all, for The righteous King is coming. Nay, He is here already, if we could but see. His goings-forth have been from everlasting. He is ruling us now--this wondrous Child, this Son of God. Unto us a Child is born already, unto us a Son is given already. But one day or other He will be revealed, and made manifest, and shown to men as a man; and then all the people shall know who He is; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Ah, my friends, Isaiah saw all this but dimly and afar off. He saw as through a glass darkly. He perhaps thought at times--indeed we can have little doubt that he thought--that the good young Prince Hezekiah, "The might of God," as his name means, who was growing up in his day to be a deliverer and a righteous king over the Jews, was to set the world right. No doubt he had Hezekiah in his mind when he said that a Child was born to the Jews, and a Son given to them; just as, of course, he meant his own son, who was born to him by the virgin prophetess, when he called his name Emmanuel, that is to say, God with us. But he felt that there was more in both things than that. He felt that his young wife's conceiving and bearing a son, was a sign to him that some day or other a more blessed virgin would conceive and bear a mightier Son. And so he felt that whether or not Hezekiah delivered the Jews from their sin, and misery, and ignorance, God Himself would deliver them. He knew, by the Spirit of God, that his prophecy would come true, and remain true for ever. And so he died in faith, not having received the promises, God having prepared some better King for us, and having fulfilled the words of His prophet in a way of which, as far as we can see, he never dreamed.
Yes. Hezekiah failed to save the nation of the Jews. Instead of being the "father of an everlasting age," and having "no end of his family on the throne of David," his great-grandchildren and the whole nation of the Jews were swept away into captivity by the Babylonians, and no man of his house, as Jeremiah prophesied, has ever since prospered or sat on the throne of David. But still Isaiah's prophecy was true. True for us who are assembled here this day.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; even the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ the Lord. The government shall indeed be upon His shoulder; for it has been there always. For the Father has committed all things to the Son, that he may be King of kings and Lord of lords for ever. His name is indeed Wonderful; for what more wondrous thing was ever seen in heaven or in earth, than that great love with which He loved us? He is not merely called "The might of God," as Hezekiah was,--for a sign and a prophecy; for He is the mighty God Himself. He is indeed the Counsellor; for He is the light who lighteth every man who comes into the world. He is "the Father of an everlasting age." There were hopes that Hezekiah would be so; that he would raise the nation of the Jews again to a reform from which it would never fall away: but these hopes were disappointed; and the only one who fulfilled the prophecy is He who has founded His Church for ever on the rock of everlasting ages, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Hezekiah was to be the prince of peace for a few short years only. But the Child who is born to us, the Son who is given to us, is He who gave eternal peace to all who will accept it; peace which this world can neither give nor take away; and who will make that peace grow and spread over the whole earth, till men shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and the nations shall not learn war any more. Of the increase of His government and of His peace there shall be no end, till the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, and the spirit of God be poured out on all flesh, to teach kings to reign in righteousness, after the pattern of the King of kings, the Babe of Bethlehem; to make the rich and powerful do justice, to teach the ignorant, to give the rich wisdom, to free the oppressed, to comfort the afflicted, to proclaim to all mankind the good news of Christmas Day, the good news that there was a man born into the world on this day who will be a hiding-place from the storm, a covert from the tempest, like rivers of water in a dry place, like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; even the man Christ Jesus, who is able and willing to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, seeing that he has been tempted in all things like as we are, yet without sin.
Yes, my friends, on that holy table stands the everlasting sign that Isaiah's prophecy has been fulfilled to the uttermost. That bread and that wine declare to us, that to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. They declare to us, in a word, that on this blessed day God was made man, and dwelt among men, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Oh, come to that table this day, and there claim your share in the most precious body and blood of the Divine Child of Bethlehem. Come and ask Him to pour out on you His Spirit, the Spirit which He poured on Hezekiah of old, "that he might fulfil his own name and live in the might of God." So will you live in the might of God. So you will be able to govern yourselves, and your own appetites, in righteousness and freedom, and rule your own households, or whatsoever God has set you to do, in judgment. So you will see things in their true light, as God sees them, and be ready and willing to hear good advice, and understand your way in this life, and be able to speak your hearts out in prayer to God, as to a loving and merciful Father. And in all your afflictions, let them be what they will, you will have a comfort, and a sure hope, and a wellspring of peace, and a hiding-place from the tempest, even The Man Christ Jesus, who said: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; let not your heart be troubled, neither be ye afraid." The Man Christ Jesus, at whose birth the angels sang: "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men."
Now to Him who on this day was born of the blessed virgin, man of the substance of His mother, yet God the Son of God, be ascribed, with the Father and the Spirit, all power, glory, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever. Amen.