Life + Culture

To Us a Child Is Born

To Us a Child Is Born

Birth announcements are wonderful ways of sharing and spreading joy.

Seven years ago, my wife and I received a treasured postcard in the mail after our first niece was born into the world. We read it carefully, studied the photo, and celebrated her arrival.

In one of the most studied and celebrated Bible passages at Christmas, Isaiah announces the arrival of a child:

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 9:6–7)

The prophet Isaiah wasn’t trying to write a modern birth announcement. But comparing his description of this baby boy to the birth announcements we send and receive illumines the distinctive splendor of this particular baby. Four things set Isaiah’s announcement apart.

1. This announcement is sent really early.

Some birth announcements go out soon after the baby is born, and others a bit later, depending on the organizational ability (and sleep levels) of the parents. But every single birth announcement I’ve ever received was sent after the baby was born. This one is different. It’s sent before the birth — seven hundred years before.

The prophet Isaiah delivered it to the people of Israel while they were facing a threat from the growing superpower of Assyria (which would eventually destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and lead many Jews into captivity). Isaiah addressed this situation by promising the coming of a future King.

The seven-hundred-year delay was not because God was unable to fulfill his promise sooner, but because he wanted to give his people the hope of a future King to sustain them through dark times. The long period between promise and fulfillment was, in fact, a gift from God to his people.

2. Isaiah announces a royal birth.

I once met Charles, the Prince of Wales, at a very fancy reception. We all stood under a beautiful tent on a well-manicured university lawn, enjoying canapés and eagerly awaiting his arrival. When the car pulled up, we all crowded into the receiving line.

I’ve never received a royal birth announcement, but I imagine it’s fancier than most — especially when it announces the birth of the future King. Such an announcement must bear a solemnity and significance ordinary ones do not.

Isaiah announces a royal birth: “the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6); “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom” (Isaiah 9:7). In Luke’s Gospel, we overhear another announcement of this same king: “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32–33).

3. The baby has four different names, each telling us what he will do.

Most babies have just one name on their birth announcement. We would have been confused to discover that my niece had been given three distinct names. But Isaiah announces the birth of a baby with four names: “his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” One name wasn’t sufficient to describe this special child.

Moreover, these names tell us what the baby will do. Imagine reading on a birth announcement, “Excellent violin player, marathon runner, future CEO of major corporation.” Birth announcements don’t list accomplishments. That’s because there are none to list — apart from thumb-sucking, blinking, and drooling.

This baby is different. “Wonderful Counselor” indicates that Jesus will be a supernatural source of extraordinary wisdom — amazing news for those who need guidance. “Mighty God” indicates that Jesus will be divinely strong and powerful — amazing news for those who are weak. “Everlasting Father” indicates that Jesus will care for his people forever, as a father cares for his children — amazing news for those who are alone and unappreciated. “Prince of Peace” indicates that Jesus will bring deep well-being and right relationships — amazing news for all of us who lack peace with each other and with God.

4. These names belong only to God.

Perhaps most shockingly (and spectacularly) is this: the names of this future King are names associated with God. Jesus will be called “Wonderful Counselor.” Later on in Isaiah, we’re told that the Lord God has done “wonderful things” (Isaiah 25:1) and that he is “wonderful in counsel” (Isaiah 28:29). Jesus will be called “Mighty God”; one chapter later, the same title is used of God himself (Isaiah 10:21). Jesus will be called “Everlasting Father”; God is called the Father of his people throughout the Bible (Isaiah 63:16), and only God himself can truly be called the Everlasting Father.

Isaiah guarantees these things will happen, and this king will be born, on the basis of God’s own passionate commitment to fulfilling his purposes for his people: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).

And Isaiah was right. God did deliver on this promise. Jesus was born seven hundred years later and fulfilled every promise announced. God came among us in the person of Jesus. He took on flesh in order to give us wisdom, protection, fatherly care, and peace as we enter into relationship with him.

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