Last week, we read from Isaiah 9 one of the great prophecies of the coming Messiah, and we’re going to be thinking some more about the titles that it gives us for Jesus.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
It’s one that quite often gets rolled out at Christmas-time, either read during an Advent service such as this, or played on the radio in the form of Handel’s Messiah.
But the first thing we need to note is that this is not just a prophecy about the birth of the Messiah, but about his life and his character. I doubt that any of us have looked down at a baby in a pushchair and told his mother that he looks like a wonderful counsellor! But these are the titles for Jesus that we are thinking about today - Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God.
When I was preparing for today, and thinking about these titles, it was the passage we’ve just heard from John’s gospel that came immediately to mind. It’s not a typical Christmas reading, I will admit, but, for me, it’s one that shows Jesus to be both a wonderful counsellor and a mighty God.
The story actually begins at the beginning of chapter 11. Lazarus falls sick, and Mary and Martha send messengers to tell Jesus and ask him to come. But he doesn’t come. He waits around for an extra couple of days before heading down to Bethany. By the time he arrives Lazarus has been dead for four days.
Martha hurries out to see him.
“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died,” she says. I wonder how she said it, though? Was she angry? Tearful? Was it an accusation, or a pleading? Was it confusion?
“But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Does she even know what she’s asking for? Jesus then enters into this strange, theological conversation with her. It’s hard to gauge what is going on her for Martha, but she then makes this incredible declaration of faith and heads off to call Mary.
Mary then hurries out to see Jesus.
“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The same question. Maybe even the same emotion, but from what we know of these sisters, I think Mary’s approach would be quite different. Certainly Jesus’ reaction to Mary is completely different to that of Martha. He doesn’t enter into a conversation with her. He’s deeply moved and he weeps with her.
This is Jesus - the wonderful counsellor. This is Jesus who understands what we need - each of us individually. He knows those of us who are Marthas - who need to talk it out, who need to understand, who have questions. And He knows those of us who are Marys - and He weeps with us. And He knows every variation in-between, and exactly what we need.
One of the great Christmas messages is the message of the incarnation - that God became flesh. That the God of creation became the baby in the manger. That our God is not one who is distant from us, who does not understand what it is to live on this planet. No - He is one who came down and lived on earth. Experienced life as a human. Experienced joy and pain. Tiredness and sickness, happiness and laughter. One who is, as it says in the book of Hebrews, able to understand our weakness, and experienced every temptation we have, but without sin.
This is Jesus - the wonderful counsellor.
But the story does not end there. Coming to the tomb, Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away. Martha - ever the practical - reminds him that a man dead for four days will likely smell. But they roll it away, Jesus prays, and then calls Lazarus out. And out he comes, wrapped in grave clothes. Very much alive.
This too is Jesus. Wonderful counsellor, but also mighty God. Not just able to understand our feelings, but with the power to act.
Jesus was born at Christmas not just to remind us that He cares, although He cares far more than we could ever imagine. This was not just about love coming down at Christmas - this was God coming down at Christmas. Immanuel - God with us. God with us.
So many people look at the world around us - and, let’s face it, it’s not a pretty sight a lot of the time - and they decide that God is either distant and uncaring, or is unable to do anything. Jesus came to show us that neither of these is true. God came to earth, and was a wonderful counsellor, becoming like us and understanding us in all our trials - not distant, but with us. But it was also God with us - the mighty God of the universe. The all-powerful Creator. Not unable, but very much able. Able to speak with authority. Able to heal the sick. Able to cast out demons. Even able to call out the dead Lazarus from his tomb.
This is the Jesus we should celebrate at Christmas. Not just a child in a manger, but a baby who grew into a boy who grew into a man who walked and talked and lived and loved and died and rose. A wonderful counsellor and a mighty God. And not just that. But the man who rose and ascended and lives forevermore. Who is alive today. Still a wonderful counsellor. Still a mighty God.
I don’t know which you need most today. Maybe you’re in need of a wonderful counsellor. Someone to comfort you; to weep with you; to reassure you; to love you. Maybe, like Martha and Mary, you have felt that Jesus wasn’t there when you needed him. Maybe you need to understand. Jesus is here for you today.
Or maybe you need a mighty God today. You need the God of the universe to touch the earth - to touch you - in power. Jesus is here for you.