Summary: Exploring reasons for the birth of the Christ.

“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.” [1]

Can any text be more intimately associated with Christmas than the text now before us? When he wrote “The Messiah,” George Frideric Handel drew heavily upon this passage of the Word. Anyone who has attended a presentation of that extraordinary oratorio will have heard the words of this text sung during that presentation. The promise of Christ’s birth and His reign is integral to the message of Christmas.

Many people—especially if they should be untaught or if they are unknowledgeable concerning the Faith—are surprised to discover that the Old Testament provides Christmas texts. However, Christians who are conversant with the Word know that the Faith is firmly grounded on teachings delivered first under the Old Covenant. Though no command to celebrate the birth of the Christ is ever issued, there is nevertheless recognition that His birth was foretold and that His advent was anticipated throughout the Jewish populace.

The necessity for the Messiah’s first advent is rooted in the human condition. Death reigns over the race because of the sin of our first father. However, in mercy God promised a Saviour even as He pronounced judgement on the creation as result of Adam’s rebellion. The promise of a Saviour was iterated throughout the Old Testament as God progressively narrowed the uncertainty shrouding the advent of His Son. The date of Messiah’s coming, the place of His birth, the conditions prevailing in the world when He would be revealed and especially the necessity for His coming were all foretold in Scripture.

Isaiah, as was true of other prophets of the Old Covenant, spoke of the incarnation. Though some supposed scholars have dismissed the importance of Isaiah’s prophecy, the court prophet did speak pointedly of the purpose of the Messiah’s advent. The purpose of Messiah’s coming, the reason the Anointed One would be born, is detailed in the words of our text—“to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”

TO US, A CHILD IS BORN — The key to understanding this passage is revealed through Isaiah’s use of the prepositional phrase, “to us.” Consider the language the prophet used when delivering the comforting promise. “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us” [literal translation]. The prophecy promises that a child is to be born, and the recipient of this blessing is “us.” The prophecy also promises that a son is to be given; again the recipient of this blessing is “us.” Some collective entity is designated as beneficiary of the divine promise. Whatever else may be implied or meant by the words God delivered through the prophet, it is apparent that some collective group is the intended recipient of the promise. In order to assign benefit for the words of the prophecy, we must discover the recipient of the prophecy.

Perhaps the prophet intends Israel to be the recipient of God’s grace. This possibility cannot be discounted. Israel is God’s chosen people. The Messiah was to come through Israel. Through Israel, we who are Gentiles are to be blessed as Scripture makes clear. In GENESIS 9:27 we discover an enigmatic promise delivered by Noah after one of his sons had mocked him because he was drunk.

“May God enlarge Japheth,

and let him dwell in the tents of Shem.”

Japheth is the progenitor of the Indo-European peoples—non-Semitic races we speak of as “white.” Ham was progenitor of the Asian and African races and Canaan was the son of Ham. According to Noah’s prophetic word, these lineages would be indebted to the Semites for some boon. That blessing is the revelation of the Faith we have received—blessing given through the Semitic peoples and propagated through European peoples to all the earth.

In GENESIS 12:3, the promise of God to Abraham that all the families of the earth shall be blessed through him. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme when he informs us of the role of the Jewish people in bringing the message of life to us. He writes of them that, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” [ROMANS 9:4, 5]. Amen, indeed!

Thus, we cannot dismiss the possibility that Isaiah may have been speaking of Israel as the intended beneficiary resulting from the child’s birth and from the giving of a son. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that the divine promise cannot be restricted to one nation, though that one nation figures prominently in the divine plan of God. I am confident that the promise is given to all mankind—if we are willing to receive the gift proffered.

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