New International Version (NIV)
9 [a]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—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 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.
4 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.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 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.
7 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.
This weekend I went to see the Avengers movie (like everyone else in the US, apparently) and for a couple of hours I found myself laughing and cheering in a packed crowd as a group of superheroes fought an epic battle to protect the right to freedom. There’s this sort of crazy adrenaline rush – a completely visceral reaction – that takes place when we go to see a really great, well-told superhero movie. When we gasp as the Hulk’s huge fist brings an alien attacker to the ground, something in our brains knows that the triumph is just so right. There is a reason that these stories are told and re-told throughout the years. The human heart longs for heroic people doing great acts. C. S. Lewis frequently talked about the fact that our incessant human longing for something so much bigger than ourselves points to the obvious fact that there must, in reality, BE something that much bigger than we are. This passage from Isaiah is gripping not only because it is beautifully written, but because it is the prophet’s resounding, epic description of the hero we have always longed for. This is not a picture of Jesus the human carpenter from Nazareth; it is a picture of Jesus, the Son of God and God himself, triumphant and more powerful than we can even fathom.
I think even more than some of the other descriptions of Jesus in the Bible, this one makes me really want to see him. What must this person be like, who is both the man from Galilee and this awe-inspiring hero? Certainly nothing like I’ve ever seen before. There is a strategic difference between any hero or superhero invented by human minds, and the nature of Jesus. When we as humans invent a hero, we have to make them fallible. We give them a weakness or a flaw or a failing of some kind, because the prospect of someone all-powerful who is also perfect seems too scary – we like heroes, we just sort of want them to be like us, too. And the truth is that power combined with perfection IS scary. As yesterday’s passage indicated, God’s holiness and awesome power are truly terrifying when we approach him in our own humanness. What separates Jesus from all of our created heroes, though, is that he is also love incarnate. He was able to be like us while not being at all like us – his divinity interacting with his humanity in ways we have no ability to understand. And it is love that makes the difference between horror and hero. If Jesus had the power detailed in this passage, but did not have perfect love, he would be a tyrant. Instead he is, as Isaiah says, our, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”