I feel like I need a wonderful counselor while I’m wading through my Christmas shopping. Why? Because my inbox is filled with so many “wonderful offers!!!” Online Christmas shopping has begun in earnest and every merchant out there is vying for my dollars. But how do I know their offer is truly wonderful?
I don’t need more data, I need someone to help me sort through it all. Honey!! I shout over my shoulder. I need you!! My husband appears. I relax.
I feel the need of a wonderful counselor not just for my seasonal affective disorder of Christmas shopping, but for all the challenges of this pandemic year.
This Advent season points us to a wonderful counselor who not only fulfills, but surpasses our need–not another digital offer, but a person, a son, who is given to us.
Isaiah 9:6 describes this person with four titles:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
So if you, like me, are drowning in the drama and data of the season, come with me.
Let’s ponder our Wonderful Counselor together.
Why We Need a Counselor
When you and I hear the word “counselor,” we usually picture a middle-aged couple coming for marriage counseling or a depressed teenager showing up for therapy. Our instinct is correct. When a problem refuses to be solved by our efforts alone, we realize we need help.
Sometimes even an untrained person can fill that role, becoming a sounding board for our thoughts, giving us an outsider’s perspective. Such a friend’s main counseling qualification is simple: she is not me. If you’ve ever talked over a problem with a close friend at lunch, you know what I mean. An interested listener who cares about you can accomplish a lot. Especially if she asks questions instead of giving advice.
If you’ve played that role, you’ve probably realized that active listening is harder than it looks. It means staying attuned to the person in front of you and resisting the self-centered voice in your head. It means clarifying what they’re saying instead of launching into what you want to say. Add to that a lively, working knowledge of the Scriptures and you have a well-equipped counselor, indeed. Perhaps even a wise one.
We need a counselor, you and I, someone who knows our hearts and speaks truth to us. We’re living in messy times, confusing times, disheartening times. The pandemic has isolated us, while the election has irritated us. And now the expectations of the Christmas season are descending on us.
That’s why we need to hear the Prophet speak. Isaiah not only foretells the coming Son, he promises that this Son will counsel us, giving us the wisdom we need.
And his counsel will be astonishing.
What Makes this Counselor “Wonderful”
What was the first thing Jesus did that amazed everyone? Was it a healing? Exorcising a demon? Those were pretty wonderful, but the first thing Mark mentions in his gospel was his teaching:
And they went into Capernaum and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
Mark 1:21-22, my emphasis
Surprised? Me too. I assumed the onlookers found his miracles riveting. Instead, out of 5 uses of the word “astonished,” only one occurs in response to a healing (Mark 7:37 the healing of the deaf man). The other four astonishing events happened while Jesus was teaching:
- they were astonished at his teaching (Mark 1:22)
- many who heard him were astonished (Mark 6:2)
- they were exceedingly astonished, and said, ‘Who then can be saved?’ (Mark 10:26)
- the chief priests…feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” (Mark 11:18)
Frankly, I’m astonished by this emphasis. It surprises me to realize that Jesus’ words were an even bigger surprise than his miracles. Matthew’s gospel reinforces this conclusion.
But it’s Luke’s gospel account that paints the fullest picture. When Jesus descends from the mountain of transfiguration with his disciples, he comes upon a noisy crowd gathered around a demon possessed boy. The disciples are wringing their hands, because their failure has left the boy still writhing.
Jesus rebukes evil–both their unbelief and the demon–heals the boy, and restores him to his father. The God-man not only exercised true faith (which the disciples lacked), but trounced the enemy and healed the boy.
“And all were astonished at the majesty of God.”
God’s majesty is on display in Jesus’ authoritative words.
Our Astonishing Savior
Jesus’s ministry was astonishing from the first moment of his baptism onward, but Isaiah reserves his greatest astonishment for his final moment. Jesus was “wonder full” not just in how he lived, but in how he died.
Isaiah, who has used the word “wonderful” to announce the birth of this child, now uses the word “astonished” to signify the wisdom of the cross. The paradox of victory through death is stunning.
Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.
Jesus succeeded in the task for which he came. That’s the wise work he did on the cross. He didn’t shrink from it; he finished it. But bearing the full brunt of humanity’s evil and God’s wrath was astonishing for those who witnessed it. He had been beaten to a pulp even before he was nailed to the cross.
However, Isaiah also points to a second astonishment, the efficacy of Jesus’ work. Notice his use of “the many”:
As many were astonished at you–
his appearance so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind–
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.”
It is a wisdom paradox: Jesus, the Wise One, embraced a death so terrible it astonished many, so that he could turn death on its head and raise the many, many, many more.
The Wise One
The wisdom of the cross continues to amaze us. Some are revolted by its violence and reject its message. I remember seeing The Passion of the Christ with religious friends who were horrified by the whole thing. Their religion couldn’t comprehend the wisdom of the cross.
But also I remember others for whom the lights came on and they became astonished by the terrible, wonderful work of our Wonderful Counselor. Their salvation is another wonder I am contemplating this Advent season.