During Advent, the church both remembers the waiting of Israel for the coming of the messiah and remembers her own waiting for the coming again of the messiah. Now how Israel and the church wait looks different. Israel waits for the one who is to come. The church waits for the coming again of the one who has already come. But who we wait for is the same. Despite the different form of our waiting, the content of our waiting is identical. Therefore, we can learn from Israel about the one whom we await. We can learn from them about him.
Learn from them about him. That's what I aim to do in the following four-week series of Advent Reflections. Specifically, I am going to reflect on the four messianic titles of Isaiah 9:6. His name shall be called (1) Wonderful Counselor, (2) Mighty God, (3) Prince of Peace, (4) Everlasting Father.
Now I will acknowledge up front that much of what I will say in the following reflections cannot be gleaned directly from this prophetic text. Much of the content of my reflections will draw on the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ (a.k.a., the New Testament). Isaiah 9:6 will for the most part serve as a way of organizing and orienting my thoughts.
However, I join the church in believing that the truest referent of all prophetic texts is Jesus Christ, even if there is not a perfect one-to-one correspondence between text and referent in matters of detail. In other words, I believe Isaiah really is talking about Jesus. Although it must be applied cautiously, this claim must be affirmed confidently.
Well, enough preliminaries. On to the first title.
Part 1 - Wonderful Counselor
First of all, it is worth noting that there should not be a comma between "wonderful" and "counselor." This disjunction nicely fits the cadence of Handel's Messiah. But such a division disrupts the parallelism of the titles in the original language, each of which consists of a noun and a modifier. So the first thing we must say about the one who was and is to come is that he is a counselor, and wonderful one at that.
So, what does it mean for Christ to be called Wonderful Counselor?
(1) He accomplishes the purposes of God. One's counselor is a party to one's counsels. A participant in one's plans, both in deliberation and execution. The messiah is God's counselor. We'll get to how he is our counselor in a moment. But in the first instance Christ is God's counselor. He is a party to the "counsels of God" (an archaic but telling phrase). He participates in the willing and enactment of God's plans. Although it is difficult to render in English, this notion is probably the closest to the original sense of the phrase. The revelation and execution of God's mysterious plans is celebrated in Ephesians 1:3-10. Although we don't want to turn the trinity into a committee, there is a sense in which the Father and Son make and fulfill plans, plans which glorify God and benefit us. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, because he accomplishes the purposes of God.
(2) He guides us into truth and righteousness. But he is not only God's counselor; he is also our counselor. He is our counselor not in the sense of accomplishing our purposes, but rather as our guide. I'm thinking here of how Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as "counselor" (paracletos) in John 14 & 16. He says that the Spirit will guide us into truth and righteousness. Interestingly, the Spirit is introduced in John 14:16 as "another counselor" (allon paracleton). The Son is one counselor, the Spirit is another. So, the Christ is our counselor. Though their work must be differentiated, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit share in this guiding activity. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, because he guides us in matters of truth and righteousness.
(3) He is our advocate before God. But the language of counselor not only connotes friendly guidance but also legal representation. This multi-valence of the Greek paracletos is also found in English. Lawyers are actually referred to as "counselors" in the context of a courtroom. So Christ not only counsels us in our daily knowing and living, but also stands beside us as our advocate before God the Father. He is our advocate. If we sin, we have an advocate before the father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one, who is the propitiation for our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of the whole world (John 2:1b-2). He stood in for us on the cross, he stands up for us now, and he will stand with us at the final judgment. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, because he is our advocate before God.
Jesus Christ wonderfully accomplishes the purposes of God, wonderfully guides us into truth and righteousness, and wonderfully advocates for us before God. Jesus Christ so counsels wonderfully. This advent we remember waiting for and remember to wait for the coming one, whose name shall be called Wonderful Counselor.