In a few hours, we’ll come back to this room and gather with wonderful soloists, volunteer musicians, and members of the community to sing selections from Handel’s Messiah. This powerful work combines great music with scripture to reflect the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the more popular and powerful pieces that we’ll sing this afternoon is called “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” It focuses on a selection from the book of Isaiah that included prophecies of a coming messiah. As the Hebrew people of the 8th century BC faced threats from their northern neighbors, they looked for someone to save them. Isaiah, the prophet, tries to tell them not to place their lives in the hands of any current leaders. He assures them that another will come who will protect them. “And he shall be called wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace.”
Christians look back and see Jesus in those words. The messiah whose birth we celebrate at Christmas and whose return we await is someone to whom those titles to apply:
“wonderful counselor” – our messiah is one who walks alongside us on our journey. We can look to his teachings from long ago and find lessons for our lives today. Through the stories of his life and ministry, we’re able to discern our own path, live by his example, and help create the world that he envisioned.
“mighty God” – we look for a messiah who is fully connected to the divine, someone who is holy, set apart, God in human, living, incarnate form.
“everlasting father” – a messiah who will never leave us, a guide whose words and lessons will always be with us, whose leadership is powerful enough to echo across the continents and the ages, yet having a relationship to us as close as our own parent.
“the prince of peace” – above all, we look for a messiah to bring comfort, safety, peace and light to a world full of hatred, violence, war, and darkness.
We have many names for the one we want to save us: Wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, the prince of peace, Messiah, Christ, Emmanuel, Jesus.
The word Messiah, the Hebrew mä·shē’·akh means “God’s anointed one.” The Hebrew writers used it to signify a ruler chosen by God to lead God’s people. Mashiyach was translated into Greek at khrē-sto’s which has become “Christ” in English. When the title of Christ was attributed to Jesus after his death and resurrection, his followers were directly connecting him to the Hebrew belief of the Messiah.
Christians look to the Hebrew scriptures and see Jesus in their passages. The name Jesus is related to the Hebrew Yehoshua or Joshua, which means “YHWH saves.”
The characteristics of the longed-for Messiah, the anointed one who will be used by God to save us, are found throughout the words of the psalmist and the prophets. Today’s reading comes from later in the book of Isaiah. Historians believe that the book of Isaiah is actually a compilation of writings from three different authors at three different times. Today’s reading from Isaiah 42 may have been written as much as 200 years after Isaiah 9, quoted by Handel, but the longing for a messiah is still very present.
The messiah – the chosen one – is selected by God and possesses God’s spirit. God says, through Isaiah, “I have put My Spirit on him; by this he will bring justice to the nations. … he will faithfully turn his attention to doing justice. And though he faces obstacles, resistance, and great pressure, he will not crack; he will not give up until things are set right.”
Isaiah’s audience 700 years before the birth of Christ were looking for someone to save them, a wonderful counselor, mighty god, everlasting father, prince of peace. 200 years later a new generation was still looking for someone to be a light to the nations, a shining beacon to world. We’ve witnessed the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the anointed one through whom God saves – and yet we are still waiting for someone to come and save us from the darkness, the war, the violence, the injustice.
What if that wonderful counselor was sent to guide us, to give us the tools, to walk with us as we make the world a better place?
What if the mighty god has given us the power to make a difference?
What if the everlasting father has acted like a parent, set the foundation, taught us what we need to know, and sent us out into the world trusting that we will continue growing into who we are meant to be?
What if the prince of peace calls us to walk alongside of him, to be a part of his court as princes and princesses of peace in our own right?
Our world needs our help. What if we change the “he”s in today’s reading to “we”s? “[We are God’s] chosen, and [God] delights in [us]. [God] has put [God’s] Spirit on [us]; by this [we] will bring justice to the nations. … we will faithfully turn [our] attention to doing justice. And though [we] face obstacles, resistance, and great pressure, [we] will not crack; [we] will not give up until things are set right.”
God calls to us as we remember and celebrate the birth of the Messiah by telling the Christmas story and singing Christmas carols and listening to Handel’s Messiah. Through Jesus’ life and ministry, we are called to be a light for the nations, a beacon to the world. Through the lessons of this wonderful counselor, we are called to take care of each other, to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, speak out against injustice, and work to create a world of peace.
Last week we spoke about the need to do something about the systematic and institutional racism that plagues our country. Since then, reports have been release discussing our country’s use of torture, our government continues to pass laws that take away funding from those in need and benefit those who already have in abundance. What are we called to do now? How is the church of Jesus Christ, how is Memorial Congregational Church in Sudbury Massachusetts called to make a difference? How are we called to follow the prince of peace? What should we do next?
I don’t have an answer for that yet. I need your help. The world needs your help. How is God calling you to respond?
The work ahead is difficult. But through it all God, our light and salvation, promises to be with us. “I am the Eternal One. By righteousness I have called you. I will take you by the hand and keep you safe. You are given as a covenant between Me and the people: a light for the nations, a shining beacon to the world. You will open blind eyes so they will see again. You will lead prisoners, blinking, out from caverns of captivity, from cells pitch black with despair.”
Come back this afternoon and listen to the marvelous work of the orchestra and the soloists. And then join in, add your voice to the powerful choruses of Handel’s Messiah and celebrate the birth of our wonderful counselor, mighty god, everlasting father, prince of peace. When the music ends, spend time in prayer listening to how God is calling you to follow Jesus Christ – the anointed one who came to save us by teaching us how to save ourselves.