In the time of England’s struggle against Napoleon, Timothy Pickering, Secretary of State in President John Adams’s cabinet, offered a toast to “the world’s last hope—Britain’s fast-anchored isle.” During World War II, in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s dinner in London, Winston Churchill said of the British Empire, “Here we are, and here we stand, a veritable rock of salvation in this drifting world.… British and American forces continue to prosper in the Mediterranean. The whole event will be … a new hope for the whole world.”
But the world’s true hope—its last and only hope—is to be found in no earthly power. The prophet Isaiah thus expresses the true hope of the world: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6, RSV). The background of this prophecy is the disastrous reign of King Ahaz, when pure religion became contaminated with idolatry and when the pillars of the social structure were tottering. Clouds were lowering on the political horizon of Judah; at her frontiers she was threatened by Assyria, the most brutal nation that had ever turned earth’s garden into a battlefield. In such a time the prophet announced a hope centering in the divine gift of a child. And this hope has long since transcended its national limitations and become the hope of the world.
To Isaiah it was given to see the dawn of a new age with such vividness and certainty that he described future events as if they had already taken place: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”; “for to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” When the light dawns upon the people who dwell in darkness, they will rejoice with the joy of the harvest, for the light will bring freedom. “Thou hast broken the yoke of his burden … the rod of his oppressor” (9:4). The hope of Israel, as that of the world, lies not in the triumph of abstract ideas, nor in the progress of civilization, nor in the development of intercontinental missiles, but in a Person incarnating in himself all righteousness, both individual and national.
The names of the child—“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”—could be applied to none but a divine person. How is he a Wonderful Counselor? The greatest problem of mankind and of every individual is sin. The wonder of his counsel is manifested in the Atonement, whereby the sinner can be pardoned without the condoning of sin. Only divine love, the fulfillment of justice, could make practical such a plan of the divine counsel. To those who in trust and submission acknowledge their sinful state and accept him as Saviour, Christ is, as Isaiah’s Hebrew can also be rendered, “A Wonder of a Counselor.” When grief and sorrow threaten to crush us or when the remorse of awakened conscience overtakes us, let us heed Christ’s counsel, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
The names “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” transcend the bounds of imagination. What an amazing wonder! God became incarnate and manifested himself to the world in the form of a child! “Everlasting Father” suggests that God is intimately related to the believer, guiding him and providing for his needs, and that, like no earthly father, whose loving care must come to an end when death beckons, he remains our Father to all eternity. The last name, “Prince of Peace,” goes to the heart of the Messiah’s work. In settling the question of our sin, he brings peace with God, inner harmony, tranquil security amid whatever storms may rage round about us. More than this, the Messiah also will bring peace to the nations.
“And the government will be upon his shoulder.” When the Wise Men came from the East, they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:2). So long as government rests upon human shoulders, the prophet sees no hope for the nation. The principles guiding Israel then were rooted in selfishness, and everywhere corruption prevailed. The same can be said of the principles guiding nations today. It is common knowledge, admitted by many of our leading statesmen, that the last world conflagration was brought about in no small measure by national greed, selfishness, and lust for power.
“Prince of Peace”! What depth of comfort is wrapped up in this name! The roll of men who have sought to build great empires is long—Rameses, Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, Tamerlane, Ghengis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, to name but a few. From the proud Pharaoh to the madman of Berchtesgaden, these have wrought with fire and sword. Even the story of the British Empire, perhaps the most just the world has known, led the laureate Robert Bridges thus to address George V in a coronation ode:
Remember all the blood and all the tears
That slowly have thine empire soldered sure.
Must empires always be built on blood? Let us go back to the words of Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder.…” These words tell the Christmas story of the birth of a child, then lead us across the ages from Bethlehem’s manger to a throne. After nearly a score of years, the world has emerged from the bloodiest war in history with ominous clouds still on the horizon. Hydrogen bombs and intercontinental missiles threaten destruction on a scale and with a speed unthought of in the past. With weapons of such power, all life could be annihilated. Even the hearts of Christians are fearful! But let those who are looking for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ lift their hearts to the future and rejoice that the kingdoms of this world shall pass away, and that the Prince of Peace will in his own good time give to earth a government of righteousness.
Then there will be no troubles with segregation or desegregation, no problems of nationalism, no tears of the oppressed, no cry of the poor to God. For nineteen hundred years Christ’s followers have rejoiced in that peace of spirit which was his dying bequest. But in his Messianic kingdom there will be a new peace—such peace that even the beasts of prey will be friends of little children; such peace that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares” and shall not “learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4). But this peace will come only with that Prince who is also the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” He is the world’s last, best, and only hope.
T. Leo Brannon is pastor of the First Methodist Church of Samson, Alabama. He received the B.S. degree from Troy State College and the B.D. from Emory University.
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