A Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson for the Sunday after Christmas
Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson
for the First Sunday after Christmas
by William Klock
This evening I want to look at just one verse from today’s Old Testament lesson: verse 6. Isaiah writes there:
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.
In our Gospel this morning we heard the beginning of the Christmas story as told by St. Matthew, but tonight I want us to listen as Isaiah sings. Think of Handel’s Messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given!”
In the Creed we affirm that Jesus Christ “came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” In those words we affirm the divinity of Jesus, but think of the line just before that—the line that makes all the difference and that tells us why he came: “For us and for our salvation.” Why was he conceived and born? For us. Why did he suffer and die? For us. In the Apostles’ Creed we affirm that we believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord—not just any Lord, but our Lord. And he is ours throughout the Creed. Again, he was conceived and born for us; suffered for us; raised for us; ascended for us; even sitting at the right hand of the Father for us. None of it makes any sense unless we remember that Jesus did these things for us. Think about it. He wasn’t born for his own benefit. He didn’t suffer and die for his own benefit. Jesus would have been just as much Lord if he’d never been Incarnate. He was born, suffered, died, ascended, and now reigns all for us.
And so Isaiah says, “ To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Luther compared what Isaiah says here to parents showing off their new baby. Someone looks in the stroller and asks, “What do we have here?” And the parents excitedly show them their baby and say, “It’s our baby.” Jesus was born to Mary, but he’s not just Mary’s baby—he’s our baby too. It’s not just that he was born to us; he was given to us too. He’s the Father’s gift to us—a gift given with nothing to give or pay in return.
In our lesson Isaiah goes on. What will he be called? Isaiah says the government will be on his shoulders and that he’ll be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We could be here all night looking at the significance of all those names and titles. He’s all those things and he is Lord too. Think back to the angels’ announcement to the shepherds: “He is Christ, the Lord.” And not just any lord. The one whom the angels announced as Lord is a true and genuine Lord—not just over men and women, but even over the angels. He is Lord, because he is God, because he is Creator.
The angels show us the baby and point us up to heaven. Isaiah shows us the baby and then shows what he will do here on the earth. He tells us that he’s the kind of Lord who takes the government on his shoulders. That’s what a lord does. But Jesus is different from the lords of the world. Jesus said, “The kings of Gentiles lord it over them” (Matthew 22:25). They have to exercise their power and rule with an iron hand and control the people with a law. Especially in the ancient world many of those rulers were harsh and cruel in order to maintain control—in order to hold onto their positions as lords. We see that still today in some places, but even in the most benevolent nations, it’s the people who have to carry their lords—we carry our government on our shoulders. Just try refusing to obey the laws passed by Parliament or try refusing to cough up your taxes too Canada Revenue Agency and you’ll come to know the force of government!
But the rule of the Son is different—the one who was born for us rules a different way: he carries us. We rest on his shoulders; he bears us up. Isaiah turns everything that the people knew upside-down and shows them something totally different from anything they would have known. Ask yourself where Christ rules. Where’s his country? Where’s his people? Where’s his government. Our queen rules an enormous realm spread out all over the world. They used to say that the sun never set on the British Empire. That empire is gone now, but much of that territory—all that land—remains under the headship of the queen. In contrast, Christ’s rule includes everyone who believes—all those who have made him their Lord. And so his kingdom isn’t about a place. We are his people. We arehis land. In fact, we’re his temple. The queen stands on her kingdom, but Jesus’ kingdom isn’t under his feet—it’s on his shoulders.
Christ carries on his shoulders all those of us who firmly put our trust in him and allow him to carry us like lost sheep. And that’s the bottom line: no one is a Christian who does not rest on Jesus’ shoulders. That’s what Isaiah is telling us. That means that you and I believe that he has paid everything for us, that our sins and our death are on the cross. We can’t pay our own debt. He has to pay it for us; he has to make satisfaction; he has to suffer; he has to carry us; we can never carry him. He does not want to be served, but to serve and to carry us. He says, “I will give you everything; all your guilt will be on my shoulders.” All the saints who have gone before us from the least to the greatest are all on his shoulders. That’s his government. And that also means that if you’re not on his shoulders—if you haven’t trusted in him and aren’t leaning on him—you’re not under his rule.
There are lots of people out there that see Jesus, but they don’t rest on him. They can’t believe that he would carry them and they insist on trying to carry him around—through their works and thinking they can earn his favour. It doesn’t work that way. Think of how Jesus so often likens himself to a shepherd. The shepherd cares for and carries his sheep. Imagine a sheep trying to carry his shepherd around and to care for him and guide him. It doesn’t work that way. The Son is the one who carries us—he has to. We can’t carry ourselves and we can’t carry him. The Good News is that at Christmas he knelt down to our level and now he calls us to hop on. “Rest on my shoulders. I’ll carry you. I’ll forgive your sins. He will carry. We simply have to trust.
Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us the gift of your Son. Thank you that in your love and mercy and grace, you chose to restore us to yourself—we who were your enemies. Give us the grace to remember always, though, that it is we who rest on him. He is our salvation, not we ourselves. Remind us each day just how strong his shoulders are, and as we climb on—as we lean on our Saviour and Lord—keep us there with your gracious hands. We ask this in his name. Amen.