Great music, like the Messiah. Powerful prophecy from Isaiah. These point us to the true meaning of Christmas and God’s gifts of justice and peace.
REV. JOHN BOLEY
Clergy Assistant to the Bishop
One of the joys of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter is pulling out my favorite recording of Handel’s “Messiah.” I usually listen to it in the car, especially over the last couple of years on commutes between Kalamazoo to Lansing. I will listen to it in its entirety, but also the seasonal portions – the first half equating to Advent/Christmas and the second half equating to Lent/Easter.
Of course one of the great choruses of the Christmas portion is, “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” This is taken from Isaiah 9: 2, 6-7 – a very familiar text which also happens to be the third lesson in the traditional service of lessons and carols.
This passage was written by the prophet Isaiah around the time of the conquest of Israel by Assyria. This was a miserable time of war and destruction as the northern Kingdom fell and its 10 tribes were carted off into captivity. And in the midst of this, Isaiah speaks the works of prophecy and hope:
2 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.
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
Authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of
David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
We Christians have claimed that this child is Jesus – particularly through Isaiah’s language of “from this time onward and forevermore.” Jesus is forevermore. And it brings us eternal hope in the “now and not yet” world we live in which is still marked by war and destruction.
Here is what G. Sujin Pak of Duke Divinity School says – so perfectly capturing this passage for us:
The birth of Jesus into the dark times of our lives, our nation, and our world is not just some warm, fuzzy event that we celebrate by candlelight while singing “Silent Night” and then go peacefully into the night. It is a radical in-breaking of a piercing light that instantly illuminates all that is wrong in this world, unhesitatingly rebukes it, and untiringly manifests such a presence of “God with us” that we cannot continue with what is but must be transformed and spend the rest of our lives witnessing to this transformation. Any who truly see this Light revealed in the manger in Bethlehem will be converted in all that they are and do toward righteousness, justice and peace.
Amen and Amen.