Every Christmas season, Snoopy, of Peanuts fame, is displayed frequently in Christmas decorations. This is largely due to the popular Christmas songs Snoopy’s Christmas and Snoopy vs. The Red Baron recorded in the 1960s by The Royal Guardsmen, as well as 1965’s animated short film, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Snoopy has become a Christmas fixture.
In the Peanuts strip comic, Snoopy is sometimes found writing a new novel. He always begins with the same words, “It was a dark and stormy night.” On one occasion as he pecks out those opening words on his tiny typewriter, Lucy happens by and offers her unsolicited advice. She says, “That’s a terrible way to begin a story . . . It’s so trite. ‘Once upon a time’ . . . That’s the way all the good stories begin. Do that . . . Begin your story with ‘Once upon a time.’” Lucy walks away and Snoopy sits still for a frame and then begins typing a new first line to his novel. “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.”
If we’re honest, we all have a chapter or two in life that begins with those words—“It was a dark and stormy night.” 2020 is undoubtedly one of those chapters for many people. After all, 2020 has been quite a year by any measure. Added to all the normal, daily pressures of life, COVID-19 has swept the planet. It’s probably no surprise that the official Word of the Year (WOTY) for 2020 is “pandemic.” Some maintain that no one word will do and have added other words like “unprecedented,” “lockdown,” and “super-spreader” to the WOTY list. On top of the pandemic, we had the bitterly contested presidential election and simmering social, racial unrest.
Increasingly, we live in a weary world, don’t we? You can see it etched on faces everywhere you go. Our friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers are weary, worn, and worried. 2020 has left many shrouded and draped in a bleak hopelessness. Many people have journeyed into the dark corners of life. Not since World War II or the Vietnam era has there been a season when the world is in more desperate need of hope, joy, and light.
Ernie Pyle was a Pulitzer prize winning American journalist who became a WWII reporter on the front lines in the Pacific Theater. He spent time in the trenches with the troops and was exposed to the worst of the fighting and destruction. He was killed by enemy fire near theend of the war in Okinawa. Shortly before his death, he wrote to a friend: “If you have any light, shine it in my direction. God knows that I have run out of light.”Many sad souls in our world today can relate to Ernie Pyle. They’ve run out of light.
In a weary world that’s running low on light and joy, there’s no better place in Scripture to get some light and rekindle the joy of Christmas and all of life than the ancient, familiar text in Isaiah 9.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 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 greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.Isaiah 9:1-7, NIV
Isaiah 9 is painted against a very dark backdrop. The immediate context of this passage is bleak. The year is 732 BC, ten years before the northern kingdom of Israel is pulverized and plundered by the Assyrian war machine. The Assyrians were flexing their muscles in their near eastern neighborhood. Israel and Judah were scrambling for security and peace. The Assyrians carried out a scorched earth policy in military conflict. They were like the original ISIS. Fear in Israel was mounting.
Conditions within Israel and Judah were just as dark and dire as those on the outside. The final verses of Isaiah 8 reveal that, in addition to the military threat on the outside, the people were so disconnected from God they were looking to the dead for wisdom and guidance. They were looking among the dead for answers to life. The Word of the Year in Israel in 732 BC was “darkeness.”
Spiritual and political darkness hung over the nation. For Israel it was gloom and doom. It was one long night without morning—a time of hopelessness, despair, and darkness for all of Israel but especially Galilee (the northern part of Israel) because they would be the first to feel the boot of the enemy. A thick darkness had enveloped the land like a heavy blanket. Things had become so dire that the people were looking to the domain of darkness for light. Sadly, this has a contemporary ring to it for many of our leaders today.
So, what’s the answer for a weary world—for a world that’s weary physically, emotionally, spiritually and politically? What’s the answer for every weary man, woman, or child? For such a complex problem, the answer is starkly simple. A baby. That’s right—a child.
Isaiah 9:1-7 directs the heart and mind of the reader to a coming child, a baby boy, who is the King. The only one who can bring light where there is darkness, joy where there is sadness and victory where there is defeat. He promises to shine a glorious, overpowering light into the midst of life’s gloom and doom. God’s answer to all of man’s darkness and despair is a baby. As Ray Ortlund says, “God’s answer to everything that has ever terrorized us is a child.”[i]
In December 1948 Prince Charles was baptized in Buckingham Palace. The following day the first pictures of the royal baby and heir apparent were released to the public. One of the most popular showed the royal family, including parents and grandparents, gather around the little prince, gazing at him. The caption underneath was: “All eyes on the Baby.”
That’s Isaiah’s message to a weary world. “All eyes on the Baby.” The ultimate reason for joy is centered upon a child. All of Isaiah 7–12 is focused on this coming child and for this reason is often referred to as “The Immanuel Book.” Because of all the prophecies of the coming Messiah and his kingdom Isaiah has often been called the “Fifth Gospel.”
What does Isaiah tell us about this child who brings light and joy? First, it’s important to understand that Isaiah collapses two comings of this child into one text. The two advents of Christ are brought together in one prophecy. A prophetic skip or gap lies between Isaiah 9:1–2 which announces Jesus’ first advent and Isaiah 9:7 which points toward his second advent when he comes to establish his global kingdom.
Interestingly, the verbs in Isaiah 9:1–2 are past tense which expresses the certainty of fulfillment. It’s so certain to come to pass that Isaiah can speak as if it’s already happened. When Jesus launched his ministry in Galilee, he quoted Isaiah 9:1–2 in Matthew 4:12–17 in reference to himself. He is the light shining in the darkness prophesied by Isaiah. Jesus is the light of the world who brings forgiveness and life to all who trust him. Just as Isaiah predicted the first territory to experience the onslaught of the Assyrians as they invaded from the north would be Naphtali and Zebulun, he also predicted they would be the first to see the messianic glory. This was fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus. Nazareth is in the territory of Zebulun. Capernaum, Jesus’ headquarters in Galilee, is in Naphtali. For Isaiah’s original audience the light was coming. For us, the light has come.
The response to the coming of the light of Jesus is overflowing gladness and rejoicing (Isaiah 9:3). Song breaks out. This must be our response as well. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “To miss the joy it to miss all.”[ii] Lloyd John Ogilvie tells the story of a friend who had a favorite saying each time he would close a conversation and say goodbye. He would take hold of the person’s hand and say, “Don’t miss the joy!” Ogilvie concludes: “A sure sign hat we have allowed Christmas to happen to us is an artesian joy which lasts all through the year.”[iii] Don’t miss the joy.
The next three verses explain further reasons for rejoicing. Each verse in Isaiah 9:4–6 begins with the word “For,” providing three reasons or explanations for the weary world to rejoice. First, the burden will be lifted as Israel’s oppressors will be destroyed (9:4). Second, the bonfire will be ignited as all the implements of war are burned forever (9:5). But third, and most importantly, a baby will be born (9:6–7b). It’s “All eyes on the Baby.”
The focus is on the nature and names of this child. The two phrases “a child will be born” and “a Son will be given” emphasize his humanity and deity, respectively. He will be born, that is, he’s a human. He “will be given,” speaks of the eternal sonship and divinity of Christ. He is eternally existing. “A son will be given to us” speaks of the Savior’s preexistent deity. By saying “given,” not “born,” Isaiah suggests that Jesus existed before His birth. He was already God, the second Person of the Trinity, before He was given to us to be our Savior. This builds on the truth of his virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14. That’s the child’s nature. He is the God-man.
The second thing about this child is his names. There are more names for Jesus crowded into Isaiah 9:6 than anywhere else in the Bible. There are four because no one name will do. They are compound because his unique dignity cannot be captured by single names. However, it’s important to note that these are not names Jesus was called during his earthly ministry, but rather descriptions of his character.
The child is a “Wonderful Counselor.” The world “wonderful” (pele) occurs in Judges 13:18 and means incomprehensible, exceptional, marvelous, surpassing human thought. “Counselor”refers to aplanner, formulator of a plan of action. The child who bring joy is an incomprehensible counselor. He guides his people through the decisions of life. He’s not like human counselors. He possesses all knowledge. When visiting a human counselor, the client has to explain everything to him or her, and even then the counselor only knows what the client expresses. Jesus knows it all. Also, his counsel is free, and he’s always available. He doesn’t have set office hours. He’s always open. That’s wonderful news for a weary world. This time of year (during the holidays) depression rates spike. Suicide rates dramatically increase, especially in 2020.
Seeking human counsel is often good and necessary, but always go to Jesus first when you face the crossroads of life, when you’re weary, when you wonder—What do I do next? How do I handle this problem? Is there any hope? Jesus has the answers to life. He is the answer. He is the life.
The child is also “Mighty God.” This is an absolute statement of the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus wasn’t just a good man. He was and is Mighty God. The child born is the Son of the Living God. The infant is infinite. The infinite is an infant. He not only knows how to formulate an exceptional plan, but He has the full omnipotence of God at His command. That little baby lying helpless on Mary’s lap created the universe and holds it together. He is the Mighty God. He can give your wonderful counsel and overcome your obstacles.
Thirdly, the child is “Everlasting Father.” This one is a bit tricky. We have to be careful here. When Isaiah speaks of Jesus as “Everlasting Father” he’s not confusing the members of the Trinity. He’s not confusing the Son with the Father. He’s not saying Jesus is God the Father. Jesus and the Father are two persons who are one in essence or substance (John 10:30).
There are two ways to understand this. Some translate “Everlasting Father” as “Father of Eternity,” highlighting the eternality of Jesus. This is certainly a valid option, as Jesus is eternal and preexistent, but the preferred meaning is that Jesus is everlastingly a Father. The Messiah is a forever father to His people. Jesus is always a father. He is father for all time. Like a father, he protects, praises, and provides. He is watching over you, walking beside you, and always wishing you the best.
The final name for the child is “Prince of Peace.” In the context of Isaiah 9, this is not speaking of personal peace or peace within. Jesus does provide that for all who come to him in faith, but here it’s about geography and national peace. Notice the context of nations, weapons, and government in 9:3, 6-7. This is promised peace in an ugly and nasty world. This is peace that puts an end to famine, war, and corrupt governments and dictators. This is peace on earth. Given time, Jesus will bring peace to the planet. He will bring war to an end. This is a kingdom yet to be established. This is the one-thousand-year reign of Christ presented in Revelation 20:1–6 where the lion will lie down with the Lamb and the nations will beat their swords into plows. When Jesus returns to earth as the Davidic King, peace will blanket the earth.
In Isaiah’s day, a golden chain often hung around the neck and over the shoulders of a great ruler, serving as the symbol of authority. Isaiah says the government is upon Jesus’ shoulders. He carries the governments of the world on His shoulders. He will come someday to rule and reign over this earth. The government and all its responsibilities will rest upon His shoulders: national defense, health care, justice, infrastructure, and law enforcement. There will be no elections (especially contested ones), no bureaucracy, no courts. He will reign as sovereign over the world.
Since he will reign as Sovereign over the world in the future, it would do us good to give him the reins of our lives now and experience a good dose of his peace. Many today are weary and worn because they have taken the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Many years ago, George McCauslin served as director of a YMCA in Western Pennsylvania. It was a difficult situation because the YMCA was losing money, membership, and staff. McCauslin worked 85 hours a week trying to fix things. He couldn’t sleep at night. Even when he was away from the job, he was worrying and fretting about problems he couldn’t solve. A therapist warned that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Somehow, he needed to let go and let God take charge of his problems. But he had no idea how to do it.
The breakthrough came one day when he took a notebook and ventured into a forest not far from where he lived. As he walked through the woods, he could feel his muscles starting to relax. Sitting down under a tree, he sighed and felt at ease for the first time in months.
Taking out his notebook, he decided to let go of the burdens of his life. He wrote God a letter that simply said, “Dear God, Today I hereby resign as general manager of the universe. Love, George.” Looking back at that moment, he reflected with a twinkle in his eye, “And wonder of wonders, God accepted my resignation.”
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The government is on his shoulders. That’s coming in the future. But in the present, as we await that day, many of us need to resign as general manager of the universe, and especially of our own universe, and lay our burdens at his feet and rest in him.
Returning our focus back to the future, at the end of the one thousand years, the messianic kingdom will usher in the eternal kingdom described in Revelation 21–22. He will reign forever and ever (Rev 11:15). Ray Ortlund encourages us:
History is going his way. . . . This child is the King to end all kings, saving us from our failure, lifting us into his own justice and righteousness. He is Jesus Christ the Lord, our crucified, risen, reigning, and coming Savior. And he will not come back to tweak this problem and that. He will return with a massive correction of all systemic evil forever. . . . The empire of grace will forever expand. . . . forever ascending, forever enlarging, forever accelerating, forever intensifying. There will never come one moment when we will say, “This is the limit. He can’t think of anything new. We’ve seen it all.” No. The finite will experience ever more wonderfully the infinite, and every moment will be better than the last.[iv]
That’s a future worth getting excited about, but how can we be sure this will really happen? After all, these are some mighty big undertaking being promised here. First, the first coming of Christ is already past. It’s already happened. We see the first half of Isaiah’s prophecy already literally fulfilled. We have a huge advantage over Isaiah’s original readers. Isaiah 9:1–2 is in the rearview mirror for us, so we can know Isaiah 9:7 will also be literally fulfilled.
Second, to ward off any doubt about failure, the text is quick to point out that the passion of God stands behind these promises. As Isaiah says, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (9:7c). This is God’s passion. This is the hot, holy energy of God. God’s passion for his own glory will insure it. God jealous love for the exaltation of his Son will insure it. God’s zeal for the covenant blessings of his people will insure it. God’s hot and holy energy will get it done. Nothing can thwart the promises of God or tame the power of God.
This Christmas, and throughout the coming year, we have every reason for optimism. In all the weariness of life write this caption underneath your life: “All eyes on the Baby.” He came the first time in a cradle as a Savior to bring the light of salvation, life, and forgiveness. He is coming again wearing a crown, as Sovereign, as Prince of Peace, to take over and make everything right forever. Whatever you do this Christmas, don’t miss the joy!
In dismay—looking at the current situation—some might say, “Look what the world has come to.” In delight—looking at the Son who was given—we can say, “Look who has come to the world” and “look who is coming again.”
That’s more than enough to shine light into every heart and saturate every mind with joy in a weary world.
[i] Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 99.
[ii] Lloyd John Ogilvie, God’s Best for My Life (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1981), 362.
[iii] Ogilvie, God’s Best for My Life, 362.
[iv] Ortlund, Isaiah, 99-100.
About the Contributors
Dr. Hitchcock is Senior Pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, a position he has held since 1991. He served as Adjunct Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary from 2006-2013 before joining the faculty full-time in 2014. Dr. Hitchcock has authored over twenty books, primarily on end time prophecy, and speaks across the country and internationally at churches and conferences. He and his wife Cheryl have two sons and one daughter-in-law, one grandson, and one granddaughter. Aside from reading and studying, he enjoys walking, lifting weights, and playing golf.