ISAIAH 9:2,6 AND PSALM 103:8-14
What comes to mind when I say the name, “Father Christmas?” Do you think of a round-bellied, jolly individual in a red suit? Does he have white hair and a full-white beard? How about when I say the name, “Father Time?” How do you picture him? Someone with a long, gray beard and a walking stick striding forward purposefully? What about “Everlasting Father?” Do you picture a white haired, wise faced patriarchal sort of image? Maybe something like what Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – God with his arm extended toward humanity? Certainly, Everlasting Father is not a name we would connect with a newborn baby.
What’s in a name anyway? (to quote Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Over the past few weeks we have considered some of the names ascribed to Jesus from the passage in Isaiah 9 – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father. For each of these, it has been much more than the name we considered, but the traits and characteristics of each name that we see exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ. And you know, there really is something about that name.
An unknown poet has written it this way:
There is majesty in the name God.
There is personality in the name Jehovah.
There is power in the name Lord.
There is unction in the name Christ.
There is affinity in the name Immanuel.
There is intercession in the name Mediator.
There is help in the name Advocate.
But there is salvation in none other,
None under heaven given among men,
Apart from the name Jesus.
An Alexander may build an empire.
A Napoleon may change the nations of the world.
A Newton may bring about an intellectual revolution.
An Edison may create a new world for science.
A Wyatt may usher in a new era of industry.
But there is only one who can touch and transform the human heart.
And that one is Jesus.
It is the birth of this incredible, incomparable Jesus that we remember and celebrate at Christmas. We wonder and we marvel that God would do such a thing as to become a baby all for the sake of us!
Let me share an illustration that might help our understanding of why God chose such an unlikely method for expressing his love for us.
“Once upon a Christmas Eve, a man sat in reflective silence before the fireplace, pondering the meaning of Christmas. “There is no point to a God who becomes man,” he mused. “Why would an all-powerful God want to share even one of His precious moments with the likes of humanity? And even if He did, why would He choose to be born in an animal stall? No way! The whole thing is absurd! I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, He would have chosen some other way.” Suddenly, the man was roused from his reverie by a strange sound outside. He went to the window and saw a small gaggle of blue geese, a type of snow goose, frantically honking and aimlessly flopping about in the snow. They seemed dazed and confused. Apparently, they had dropped out in exhaustion from the flight formations of a larger flock on its way from the Arctic Islands to the warmer Gulf of Mexico. Moved to compassion, the man tried to “shoo” the poor geese into his warm garage, but the more he “shooed” the more they panicked. “If they only realized I’m only trying to do what’s best for them,” he thought to himself. “How can I make them understand my concern for their well-being?” Then, this thought came to him: “If for just a minute, I could become one of them, an ordinary goose, and communicate with them in their own language, they would know what I am trying to do.” And suddenly … suddenly, he remembered Christmas and a smile came over his face. Suddenly, the Christmas story no longer seemed absurd. Suddenly, he pictured that ordinary-looking infant, lying in the manger, in that stable in Bethlehem, and he knew the answer to his Christmas problem: God had become one of us to tell us that He loves us.
But we do tend to want to like the thought of Jesus as a sweet baby and we romanticize this vision. In our hymn this morning, Away in a Manger, we sang, “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” Do you really believe that? That Jesus didn’t cry as a baby? I don’t! God became one of us and experienced all that we experience, including diaper rash and tears.
Then perhaps you have seen the outtakes from the movie Talladega Nights, where race car driver, Ricky Bobby is saying the blessing over the family meal of Domino’s Pizza, KFC chicken, and Taco Bell, and his prayer is to baby Jesus, in which he prays: “Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent.” His wife interrupts and says, “Umm, baby, Jesus did grow up, you don’t always have to call him baby.”
So, while we like to think of Jesus as a sweet baby, we cannot allow him to remain in the manger. Jesus does grow up. And as he grows, he increasingly takes on some family traits and characteristics. We all have those don’t we? Maybe you look have your Aunt Alice’s nose or your Uncle Joe’s hairline. You might have the family chin or physique. But more important are the personality traits we take on. I like to think I have my dad’s tendency toward generosity. Hannah has his love of detail and creativity. Reagan has his compassion for others.
What are the family traits that Jesus takes on? Characteristics from the ancient titles given him give us a few clues, as does our passage today from Psalm 103. As Wonderful Counselor, Jesus goes beyond conventional wisdom and challenges his followers to care for the least, to live with hope and to pass our hope along. Our Wonderful Counselor shows us goodness and mercy. The ancient title of Mighty God, weighs heavily on a baby, but on Christ, it represents the authority given to Christ to oppose the forces of chaos and death and to model justice. Jesus comes to bring power to our lives, to give wholeness, and to reclaim and create new lives for the captive. In the name of Jesus, there is power to overcome our greatest fears. As Prince of Peace, Jesus offers “shalom” not through any imposed peace or military presence, but rather through a personal and intense and subversive relationship with us individually. This peace shows up when we share generously, when we set aside prejudices, when we accept others, when we care for the vulnerable, when we do not seek to be first. Our passage from Psalm 103 highlights some of the traits of God as father that are characteristics that Jesus develops as he grows. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Recognizing that we are fragile human beings and that we can be stubborn and we make mistakes. As Everlasting Father, we find one who cares for us through all time. Jesus says, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) And we, over the generations, have found and continue to find in this abiding presence our hope, and joy, and peace, and strength; our assurance and our salvation.
That is quite a legacy for a baby born in a manger. So I ask you, what family traits do you most wish to be remembered for? Which do you wish to pass along? Which traits of our Savior have we incorporated into our lives as part of the family of Christ? What do we teach the generations who are listening with curious ears and watching with innocent eyes? What do they see us practicing – Goodness and justice? Do they see us treating people with compassion and forgiveness? Do they hear us speaking in love and mercy? Fellow keepers of the faith, when we are gone, how will we be remembered? Let us grow in generosity and compassion, leaving behind a legacy of love for those who follow in our paths. Let us model the traits of our Lord, Jesus Christ, born in humility and raised to glory, that generations to come will speak the name above all names. For there truly is something about that name – Jesus.
Go now in the name of Jesus Christ, carry with you the family traits of Jesus Christ into the world, and leave a legacy of love for those who follow.