Summary: Jesus came as our Messiah, our Christ, fulfilling a 700-year-old prophecy of deliverance. In so doing, he still today brings us understanding, justice, and peace.
Hope Born at Christmas
Christmas is about miracles. Christmas is about hope and peace and love. Christmas is prophesied here in the book of Isaiah, written some 700 years before Jesus’ birth. Times were hard then. The 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom had already fallen to the mighty Assyrian Armies. And in 587 BC, the unthinkable happened: Jerusalem and the Southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians. The Temple, God’s presence on earth, was destroyed. Israelites were killed or taken off as slaves. God’s promise of a descendent of King David who would reign forever seemed difficult to imagine at this point.
Yet the ancient prophet Isaiah described a little shoot of a plant, life coming out of a stump, from the family line of Jesse, father of King David. Where a tree had been cut down, such as the mighty nation of Israel, now life would return. There is hope. Verse 1 says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.”
The rest of today’s passage describes this hope to come, hope that would be born at Christmas. Maybe there have been times in your life when you’ve needed some hope. The verses here describe a Messiah, a Christ that will bring hope in specific ways just as we need it. Consider the three major categories on your outline. First,
1. When things are not clear: we can trust in Jesus for understanding (v. 2)
Have you ever felt unclear how to proceed in a situation? Like there was just no clear way forward? I’ve felt like that at times in my life. When we don’t know what to do next, that’s a great time to develop our faith muscles. Because God knows the next step. Jesus our Savior knows the next step. Consider the wisdom of Jesus, described here by the prophet Isaiah in verse 2:
“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
If you were going to seek out a really good counselor to give you advice, what kind of a person would you want? I think I might want a Christian believer who carries the same spiritual values I do, someone full of the Holy Spirit, someone who is very wise and understanding, someone who really knows and respects God. And that’s what verse 2 says about this one who would come from Jesse’s family, this shoot or rod or root that would spring up. This is Jesus: full of God’s Spirit as shown at his baptism, when a dove came down from heaven. This is Jesus the Son, who while on earth modeled for us his constant dependence upon God the Father. He knows the Father’s will. And he can lead us to know it as well.
My wife asked me this morning, “How was it that you got into the VA’s Clinical Pastoral Education program to begin with?” She was just curious about this twist in our life, as we have come full circle, from active duty military to pastorate, back to military, and now hospital chaplaincy. Looking back, we never could have foreseen this career progression, although it all comes together now. Yet, each step of the way, we simple trusted our Counselor. When we didn’t understand what was ahead, we tried to trust our counselor Jesus, knowing that he would never mislead us. And he hasn’t.
In those times when we don’t know how to proceed, we can lean heavily on God as our counselor. When we don’t understand, we can trust that Jesus understands, and is working a plan out of our obedience.
For each of today’s points, I want to borrow from a nearby text in Isaiah, just a couple of chapters before today’s passage. Perhaps you’ve heard of this verse. Maybe you’ve seen it on a Christmas card. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For a child is born to us, A son is given to us; And the government Is upon His shoulder; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Did you catch the first part of his name? “Wonderful counselor.” When you don’t know the way ahead, let Jesus lead you into all understanding.
And then consider, #2,
2. When things are not right: we can trust in Jesus for justice (v. 4b)
Kids have hard-wired into their DNA a passion for justice. Because not long after they’re able to speak, they utter those three words: “It’s not fair.” And all good parents reply, “No, it’s not, because life is not fair.” That’s a hard lesson to learn as a kid, and no easier as an adult.