Sunday, December 3, 2023

Wonderful Counselor, the Lord with You

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.
In the former time he brought into contempt
the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea,
the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. . .

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
- Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7 

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Today I light the candle of Jesus as our Wonderful Counselor.

This passage above is part of a full oracle given by the prophet Isaiah. It was a message delivered during a dark period in Israel’s history with both contemporary and future foretellings. With their enemies growing in strength, the people of God could not tell if the Lord was for them, against them, or if He had abandoned them to their fears. So Isaiah speaks into their desperation, prophesying about a grim future of defeat, exile, and return. But amid his bleak forecasts, Isaiah also delivers a sign from God.

Writers at the Zondervan Academic blog reflect on Isaiah 9:6, saying,

“Included [are] two prophetic visions of a child who would represent God’s presence, embody his characteristics, and bear the responsibility of governing his people.

Two chapters before Isaiah says “For unto us a child is born,” he prophesied the birth child whose name would signify the presence of God: 'Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.' (Isaiah 7:14)”
In Luke’s gospel, we read of the Angel Gabriel visiting a young woman named Mary. His words echo that promise given seven centuries before. However, it is not just the angel’s description of this child — “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33)—that channel Isaiah’s prophetic words.

We all know that angels begin their messages with proclamations of “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid!”, yet before that reassurance, Gabriel says something important we often miss. I don’t know why I’ve never noticed it before. He says, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28b).

In her book, Awaiting the Manger, Ocieanna Fleiss explores the “whispers of Advent in the Old Testament.” Reflecting on how Eve may have responded to God’s promise following the first sin in the Garden. She says,
“Only God could repair the broken fellowship, and we first glimpse his rescue plan in these words he spoke to the serpent, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’ (Genesis 3:15).

In these puzzling words, we find the whisper of a promise. Someday—tomorrow? Next week? Far in the future? Adam and Eve didn’t know when, but they did know that through his suffering, he would free them from the doom of hopeless wandering. They would walk with their Father once again.

But that was all they knew.

‘Send him soon,’ I imagine Eve prayed as she left the garden. ‘Yes, soon Lord.’

Millenia passed, and then, to a daughter of Eve an angel came. This angel was unlike those who wielded the flaming swords blocking entrance to the Father’s presence—instead, this angel announced the way to be with God again. 'Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you' (Luke 1:28). Did you see that? The Immanuel promise was right there in the greeting. 'The Lord is with you.' Finally! Finally, he would arrive—the one who would crush the serpent’s head, endure the fiery sword, and usher us into sweet fellowship once again.”

I recently learned that the Hebrew word for waiting, qāvâ (you can read more on the Blue Letter Bible website), has a meaning rooted in being intertwined. It holds connotations of endurance and strength like a length of twisted rope.

From the beginning in the Garden of Eden, God intended beautiful and complete communion with His creation. But then sin entered the world and a rift was made. We read above about the Lord’s promise regarding the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring. But God went on to reveal a new reality full of painful child bearing, imbalanced partnerships between men and women, and hard labor for daily sustenance. From then on, Adam and Eve and all their descendants have been plagued by having to wait. Yet God never abandoned His people. Every step from the Garden to the Manger, and from the Manger to the Cross has been full of God’s new plan to mend, and heal, and make whole that which was lost.

After Malachi’s last prophecy, Israel spent 400 years of thinking God was finished making and keeping promises. Yet He was just getting started with the biggest Answer history had ever seen. The Angel Gabriel is sent to a small village called Nazareth and God leads him to a young woman named Mary. Just like her ancestor David, she is favored. God has sought her out. All of Israel’s waiting has not been in vain.

This Immanuel is indeed a Wonderful Counselor, sent by the Father to show His people the way of Light and Life.

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