The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [Isaiah 9:2,6 (KJV)]
No Christmas Eve seems complete without reading Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth. Although my husband and I usually read from the NLT, it will be from the King James tonight, which is the Bible translation we both knew as youngsters. Seventy plus years ago, the Sunday schoolers at my husband’s church recited Luke’s words every Christmas Eve and he always seemed to have the same verse: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Although many of the words and phrases of the KJV (like “espoused wife,” days that were “accomplished,” and being “of the house and lineage of David” or “sore afraid”) seem dated, it will be comforting to read the familiar and beautiful words found in this old translation.
We’ll also read the powerful words found in Isaiah 9—a promise that those walking in the darkness of God’s judgment will see the light of deliverance with the birth of a child who will fulfill God’s promise of a messianic King. It will be difficult to read the titles given to this child without wanting to sing the words so familiar from Handel’s Messiah: “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Whether the child would be called both “Wonderful” and “Counsellor” or “Wonderful Counsellor” is a point of contention among translators. While the King James places a comma between the two words, many other translations don’t. Since the original Hebrew had no punctuation, we’ll never really know. Regardless of the punctuation, when we look at His names, it’s clear that the promised child would do more than bring light into the world.
The Hebrew word translated as wonderful is pele’ and it meant far more than just extraordinary. Astonishing to the point of being miraculous, pele’ was so marvelous that it required an act of God! The rest the child’s names are pretty self-explanatory. As a counsellor, he would guide the people from God’s perspective and with divine wisdom. He would have God’s might and power but care for His people as does a father for his children. A father, however, can’t do that forever but this promised child would guard and sustain his people eternally. The child’s final title is that of Prince of Peace. From the Hebrew word shalom, the peace of which Isaiah speaks is far more than absence of conflict or anxiety. It is a sense of wholeness, fullness, security, safety, balance, harmony, tranquility and calm—all of which the world so desperately needed then and still needs now.
The past four Sundays, we’ve lit the colored candles of hope, peace, joy, and love on our Advent wreath. Tonight, after lighting them, we will light the white candle that sits in the wreath’s center: the Christ candle. As we look at those five candles brightly burning, we’ll remember that Jesus truly is the “light of the world” and so very much more!