Joy of Every Longing Heart
The book of Isaiah is quoted at least 75 times in the New Testament, more than any other Old Testament prophet. Isaiah is the evangelist of the Old Testament, speaking prophecies of which he was not aware, whose fulfillment would be in the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the king of kings. Matthew cites Isaiah 9:1,2 to show how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy that the coming King would live in the Galilee of the Gentiles, “the people in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)
Isaiah is the prophet of good news. He is the foreteller of the light that is to come into the world. He prophesies that, in contrast to those who, because of their unbelief and disobedience, look forward toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, who will be thrust into utter darkness; he promises that there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. (Isaiah 8:22;9:1)
The Old Testament looked forward with longing for the fulfillment of the prophecies of a new age where the forces of darkness would be dispelled by the light of the world. Charles Wesley expressed it in his hymn,
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of ev’ry nation,
Joy of ev’ry longing heart.
What is it that we long for today? What is the joy we are seeking? What is it that permeates our preparation for Christmas; that expects, and anticipates, and longs for the joy that festival represents? What fearful gloom do we long to dispel? What distress do we want alleviated? What uncertainties and insecurities do we want resolved?
Isaiah looks forward to the birth of a ruler, a Savior, who would inaugurate a new kingdom of God.
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. (9:6)
These four names which describe the Savior to come may help us to define and so respond to the longing which we find difficult to pin down. Most of us suffer in some measure from free-floating anxiety. We can’t pinpoint any specific fear or reason for our feelings, but we live with a general longing for joy that seems to be just outside our reach. What do the names of the Savior tell us about our needs and the solution to them?
1. Wonderful Counselor.
The Savior will provide leadership and guidance that will be recognized as full of wonder and marvelous in our ears. “The Spirit of the LORD will rest upon him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:2) When Jesus taught the people, and answered the questions of his adversaries and those who sought his counsel, they were amazed and astonished at his teaching. (Matthew 22:22,33) When we read his words in the Gospels we are convicted by his counsel, challenged by his leadership, enlightened by his guidance, and moved by his empathy. We are wise, when we are distressed and confused, to seek counseling from someone we trust can help us. God has come in Jesus to provide us with the leadership and guidance we need in all of life’s dilemmas. So we are to “ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who nocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7,8)
2. Mighty God.
The Savior is the source of all power and might in the universe. His coming brings all possibility because he releases us, liberates us, from. fear and the consequences of sin. As the angel Gabriel told Mary: “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) That is why St. Paul can say, “I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) When we know that we have been given that assurance in Christ we can have confidence in the face of uncertainty, and in the awareness of our own weakness. We can put on the armor of God to protect ourselves from the assaults of the enemy. We can take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and use the weapon of prayer to drive away the forces of darkness.
3. Everlasting Father.
The Savior is an enduring, compassionate provider and protector. Jesus tells us to pray to our Father, to “give us this day our daily bread.” We cannot trust in any human government or institution or corporation to completely provide for us from the cradle to the grave. In an age of much change and uncertainty in politics and in the marketplace we place our confidence in the One who will last, who can be relied upon to be there for us in the evil day. Jesus said, “I am with you, always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So I say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me.’” (Hebrews 13:5,6) Jesus said, “My sheep shall never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30)
4. Prince of Peace.
The Savior will bring wholeness, well-being, and harmony to those who enter his kingdom. The heavenly host at the birth of Jesus proclaimed peace on earth to those upon whom God’s favor rested. (Luke 2:14) The peace he brings is peace with God. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid…..I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 14:27; 16:33) When we know that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) we don’t have to prove ourselves either to ourselves or others. When we know that we have acceptance and understanding from God in Christ we do not have to be in competition with others, or feel the need to control or exert power over others. Instead we can allow God’s peace and love to control us and release others to fulfill God’s will for their lives.
Whatever may be the fears, the sins, the uncertainties and the insecurities we feel, they are addressed in the Gospel of Jesus. He is the joy of every longing heart. Let him come into your heart and reign over all that would distress you. Find your rest and freedom in him.
November 26, 2006
Amelia Plantation Chapel, Amelia, Island, Florida
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