The land where Jesus grew up and did His ministry was once called Zebulun and Naphtali. It had been a territory ravaged badly by war. The Assyrians had slaughtered the Israelites and carried the remnants off in exile. The Bible describes it as a land of doom and distress.
Then the day came when the Prophet Isaiah brought them a message of hope. He writes, “There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past God humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan Ð”
This is a prophecy of the Messiah who would come and bring hope to the Jewish people. Isaiah continues, “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. Of the increase of his government there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
These are familiar words often used as a greeting on Christmas cards. It is one of the primary Advent texts that the Church has used for generations, and we will use it as a basis for our sermons the four Sundays of Advent.
Look at these words: “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor.” Let’s stop right here for our first Advent thought. Jesus conducted counseling sessions for people who lived in darkness concerning spiritual matters. One of these subjects often discussed by any generation is salvation. It is an important topic in the Advent season.
Why did Jesus come to earth? Joseph, the man engaged to be married to Mary, asked that question. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary was going to have a child. “How could this be?” Joseph wondered. They had not lived together. Then the angel added more to Joseph’s confusion when he said, “What is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sin.”
How would this child become the Savior? From what was Jesus to save them? These are questions that people have asked in the past and continue to ask today.
Let’s look at Jesus as he counseled a well-known teacher of the law named Nicodemus. He came to Jesus one night to discuss man’s relationship with God. It did not take our Lord long to tell Nicodemus that, to be saved, he needed more than the law of God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3).
Our Lord went on to tell this teacher of religion that he had once been born of the flesh, and now he had to have a spiritual rebirth to be a part of the Kingdom of God. It took more than one counseling session for Nicodemus to understand what it meant to be saved and Jesus’ part in granting him salvation. However, on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion it was Nicodemus who assisted in His burial. After being counseled by Jesus for three years, he understood the reason for Jesus’ coming to earth and how people are saved.
The generations come and go, and people ask the same questions: Is there life after death? What do you have to do to be saved? What is Jesus’ part in our salvation? The world lives in spiritual darkness when it comes to understanding how we enter a personal relationship with God.
There are many other subjects for which we need the counsel of Jesus. To live the abundant life, it is necessary for us to have a good relationship with people. As we approach the Christmas season, is there something between you and another person that is detracting from the joy of the season? If so, Jesus wants to be your counselor concerning this problem. What keeps you from letting Him heal this broken relationship?
Maybe some of these words will help to restore that friendship you once enjoyed. The Lord says, “Go to that person and have a good visit about your feelings toward each other. If you are offering your gift at the altar, (that is, if you are in church) and there remember that your brother has something against you, then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23f).
What is His counsel? Don’t carry a grudge. Don’t let anything continue to separate you from another person. Get it straightened out. Note how direct Jesus is. This is what has to be done. The situation will not be solved without talking to each other. Now go and do it. Wouldn’t our lives be much happier if we would accept this marvelous piece of counsel?
If the anger between two people is not dealt with, it will soon develop into hatred. Then we adopt an attitude that one day we will get even with the enemy. One of our Lord’s servants, St. Paul, elaborates on this sin when he writes to the Romans. They were trying to get even with those who had offended them. “The Lord says, ÔVengeance is mine.'” It was a word from the Old Testament that needed to be reemphasized as a divine truth then, as it should be now.
How much happier King Herod’s life would have been if he had only followed that counsel. You remember Herod, the jealous king. He was betrayed by the Magi who had come from the East to worship the Christ child. Herod told these strangers to return after they had seen the child and tell him where Jesus was so that he might go and worship the Babe. However, the wise men received word from the Lord that they should not do that because Herod had only one purpose Ð to kill the child. When King Herod heard that he had been tricked, he became so angry that he sent out an edict for all male children, two years and younger, were to be killed. This was vengeance at its worst. If only Herod had left his anger with the Lord, how much happier he would have been.
Here is another concern that can be very disturbing. Materialism runs high in the Christmas season. Think of the millions of dollars spent on Christmas presents. We are told that how well the retailers do at Christmas determines whether their business operates at a profit or a loss for the year.
Jesus never counsels that making a profit is wrong. We must not get overly pious at this point in our discussion. But what about this word of counsel from the Savior who wants us to be happy people: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Is He not counseling us to enjoy our wealth, but make sure it has the right place in our lives? When the almighty dollar begins to control us and we live for material possessions, we serve another god.
I have often wondered if the innkeeper in Bethlehem could have found a room for Mary and Joseph that night when Jesus was born if he had been offered a premium price. If were so, the love of money that robbed this business man of the opportunity to have the God incarnate born in his inn.
As we read through the Bible, we see rich counsel that God is anxious to give to us. There is much joy and celebration at this time of the year, but there is also much sadness. Maybe there is a bit of darkness in all of our homes. The Christ child is our best counselor. He can help us deal with life as it presents itself to us in this emotional time of the year. I leave you with this thought, which I find written in the footnotes of my study Bible, “He will not always take us around our troubles, but if we will follow him wholeheartedly he will lead us safely through them.”