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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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Christmas for the Weary

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Every year a debate rages across the land. When is it appropriate to start listening to Christmas music? Some are happy to play Nat King Cole pretty much any time after Labor Day. Others—how best to put this?—are more Scrooge-like in their attitude to festive songs.

When we should start preparing for Christmas is an unresolved discussion.

But God started preparing for Christmas long before we might realize. Isaiah’s famous prophecy concerning the child born to us was written around 500 years before the birth of Christ. And just as God’s people needed to have a right understanding as they looked forward to that first Christmas, so too we need that same understanding as we look back on it. Especially if we are weary.

Holiday for the Weary

Things that make life hard often feel worse at Christmastime. Culturally, we have turned Christmas into a matter of performance. There is the cultural pressure to have life at its Instagrammable best: impressive-looking homes, delicious-looking food, precocious-looking children. Meanwhile, strained relationships, bereavement, financial difficulties, and uncertainties can feel all the more pronounced. A season of presumed celebration makes the hardships even more apparent.

So Isaiah 9 is for us. Look at whom the prophecy is addressed to:

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light . . . (Isa. 9:1–2)

Gloom, anguish, darkness. An apt description of this region. It was Galilee “of the nations” not because it was diverse and vibrant, but because geographically it was the front door of the nation: this is where invading foreign armies would show up.

We tend to think Christmas is for children, or the sentimental. In these days of concern over religious and cultural appropriation, some might think Christmas should be just for Christians. But Isaiah shows us it is for the broken. In other words, for all of us.

God didn’t come to this world to congratulate the successful and high-five those who have their lives together. He came for those walking in darkness—they have seen a great light. Not “O come all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant”—otherwise none of us could be there. No. Christmas is for the faithless, joyless, and defeated.

Improbable Victory for the Weary

And what does this great light mean? Joy and freedom!

You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff of his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. (Isa. 9:3–4)

The day of Midian was a great victory in the book of Judges, and it’s a clue that the victory Isaiah foretells will be similarly unusual and unlikely. And yet it will come, and with it the final end of all conflict (v. 5). We need this victory, not just because of the war-torn character of this world, but because of the deeper conflict and oppression under which all of us labor as descendants of Adam. As Jesus said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). All other conflicts and oppressions derive ultimately from this one. And God will end it.

How? Through a baby. An improbable victory indeed:

For 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. (Isa. 9:6)

Marvelous Savior for the Weary

It is normal for parents and grandparents to make somewhat outlandish claims about their newborn. But Isaiah’s claims here put even the most overenthusiastic parent to shame:

Wonderful Counselor

This man’s wisdom, guidance, and teaching will be breathtaking. Indeed, those who first heard him said no one else spoke like him; his words have an effect no one else’s do. As we follow him and obey him, we too realize that his counsel to us is truly wonderful. This coming year, let’s not allow a single day to pass where we don’t sit under his counsel.

This coming year, let’s not allow a single day to pass where we don’t sit under his counsel.

Mighty God

Here is a person whom it will be utterly appropriate to worship. He is not to be revered as a merely inspired man. He is no less than God himself. No wonder his counsel is beautiful. This is the God who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves. And he knows infallibly what we most need this Christmas.

Everlasting Father

Scripture will unfold to show us this man is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, and yet he has father-like qualities himself. He cares for the helpless and strengthens the weak. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in his death and resurrection for us. And these father-like qualities are everlasting. He will never grow tired of caring for us. Our weariness will never deplete him.

Prince of Peace

This baby will grow up to provide true and eternal peace between us and our God, a peace so potent it will work its way into all relationships and across all creation.

He will never grow tired of caring for us. Our weariness will never deplete him.

Four in One

These four titles are his one “name.” They are inseparable and indivisible. We can’t hope to have his peace without his deity, his death without his counsel. He is only any of these things to us because he is all of them.

And the cause of such a figure cannot fail (v. 7). His government and peace will only increase. In 2019 the kingdom of Jesus Christ will grow, not shrink. If we are on the right side of Jesus, we will never be on the wrong side of history. Let’s push all our chips onto him. He will never fail us.

All that’s left for us is to marvel at him. And to receive him. To us a son is given. And so we pray along with the carol,

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.

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