This Christmas reflection includes a communion liturgy. Merry Christmas!
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 (NRSV)
This well-known passage is often read during the Christmas season. However, it’s context is actually in the midst of the threat of war and destruction. But in the aftermath of the doom and gloom, a new light will dawn. As the people return to God, there will be redemption and restoration. There will be a new leader who will reflect the power and faithfulness of God.
As with many of the Hebrew scriptures, we understand them more fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As such, we now have a dual understanding of this child that’s been given to us — which is why we read this passage at Christmas.
This familiar passage also contains familiar names for God. They are so familiar, I don’t know that we think about them very much. As we read the Gospels, Mighty God and Prince of Peace are all fitting names for Christ. We may say the same of Everlasting Father, since Jesus said that he and the Father are one throughout John’s Gospel. Likewise, we might understand Wonderful Counselor to be a nod to the Holy Spirit.
But as I reflected on this last one, I didn’t think that was it.
My curiosity piqued, I looked through my commentaries to see what scholars had to say. The answer? Not much. Next, I turned to the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of the passage.
For a child has been born to us,
A son has been given us.
And authority has settled on his shoulders.
He has been named
“The Mighty God is planning grace;
The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.” – Isaiah 9:5 (JPS)
Well, that’s a little different. The Wonderful Counselor isn’t someone who gives great advice but one who plans grace. The JPS translates the Hebrew word for “wonder” as grace here — but only here and one other place where it is set alongside “counselor.”
But really, grace is a wonder, so I think it works for us.
So Wonderful Counselor means that God is the mighty planner of grace-filled wonders. That seems the most Christmas-ey of all the names given to us here in Isaiah, for Jesus is the most wonderful, grace-filled plan of all.
Wonderful as it is, God’s plan is a bit surprising. Instead of sending another ruler — strong and powerful — to take on the Romans, God’s plan was to become as one of us. God’s grace-filled plan of redemption is not the work of the created but the Creator.
Brian Bantum explains,
God’s redemption is always a bodied redemption, a redemption that takes up our everyday lives so that our everyday lives can be free. There is no redemption without God’s presence.
And so God’s wonder-filled plan was the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. God humbling God’s self as a human infant to become redemption for all humans. The incarnation unites heaven and earth, the sacred and the secular, the physical and the spiritual.
In this way, the incarnation, Immanuel, God With Us, is the first Sacrament. A plan of grace and wonder — a spiritual truth made flesh.
In the busy-ness of all our holiday preparations, or overshadowed by the continuing pandemic, we can lose the wonder of Christmas. We no longer come to it with the eyes and hearts of children, but as adults who have seen it all before. We have low expectations. Somehow it just all became “socks and underwear” and Aunt Martha’s fruitcake.
The wonder of the shepherds, the ponderings of Mary, God dwelling among us have become all too familiar and fades into the background like Christmas music that has been playing in stores since Halloween. Somehow we forget that God’s wonder-filled plans continue to unfold. The glories of righteousness and the wonders of God’s love are still being revealed.
Christ is still being born and given to us.
So, where is your wonder this Christmas?
- How does Jesus continue to be a bodied redemption — not only on this holy night but every day of your life?
- How does God’s presence, Immanuel, continue to redeem you?
- How is God’s wonder-filled plan of grace unfolding in our world tonight?
As we ponder the grace and wonder of God with us, let us offer our thanksgiving.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
God, Wonderful Counselor, we marvel at your faithful love. With a plan of redemption, you brought us out of captivity and through the sea. Despite our lack of imagination and trust, you formed us to be your people. Wonder upon wonder, you led us through the wilderness to your Promised Land.
Jesus, Wonderful Grace, what humility and love was incarnate in your infant body that first Christmas. It defies our understanding that you would entrust your wonderful plan of salvation to our care. As you lived among us, you taught us love and kindness. You did great wonders in our presence that me might know you are God’s presence with us.
Spirit of Wondering, you continue to speak redemption into our hearts. You lead us from our churches and homes out into the world, inviting us to tell others of your wonder and grace.
As we gather in the name of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace we ask that you make incarnate our communion with Christ and one another. It is a mystery we do not understand but a wonder we continue to behold, as you make us one in you. We join our voices to offer the prayer you gave to us, saying: Our Father…
Bantum tells us,
The incarnation is God’s word to us: I will save you by becoming like you, by being with you. We must tell our stories together. The incarnation is God’s word to us, “This is my body, born for you.”
On this night, we remember God’s body born for us. We remember a night that did not usher in a death but the birth of a miracle. Blood was shed and a body broken that God’s wonder-filled plan of grace might be born for us. Life to give us life. Immanuel, God with us, that God’s redemption could be made real.
As we prepare to come to the Table this evening, we declare it open for all. For God’s Good News of great joy is for all people. Come and partake of Christ’s wonder and grace as we celebrate the Sacrament together.
Prayer After Communion from Isaiah 9:6; Luke 1:46-55
Mighty God, planner of grace-filled wonders
Eternal God, who rules in peace
God with us, loving redeemer
Our souls magnify you and our spirits rejoice for you have looked on us with grace. In your holiness, you have done great things. In your mercy, you have humbled the proud and lifted up the lowly. In you love, you have filled the hungry and made the rich aware of their emptiness. At your Table, you have renewed your promise of redemptive presence. You have filled us with wonder once again. As we go forth into the world, may we share your Good News of great joy with all people. Amen.
If you are looking for more liturgical resources, please consider checking out my books:
Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for Worship Prayers for the People is a collection of prayers for worship. These prayers offer the worshipping community fresh perspectives for praying the words of Scripture, using current language and references. Cross-referenced to the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors seeking to lead their people in prayer have found a relevant and beautiful source for worship planning.
Come to the Table: Communion Liturgies of Invitation to Celebrate and Experience the Love of God is a collection of communion liturgies inviting worshippers to experience and respond to the Gospel. These meaningful liturgies enhance and reinforce the biblical message of the day. Worshippers are welcomed to the Table to experience the Word in preparation to go out into the world and live it. Come to the Table includes liturgies for the entire liturgical year providing pastors with a valuable resource in worship planning.
 Bantum, Brian. The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World. Fortress Press, 2016. Kindle edition (68).
 Bantum, Brian. The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World. Fortress Press, 2016. Kindle edition (76).