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In 1741, the composer George Frideric Handel wrote his famous oratorio, Messiah. As the title implies, the oratorio traces Jesus’ birth (Part 1), his death (Part 2), and his resurrection (Part 3).
We are most familiar with his “Hallelujah!” chorus, but the entire oratorio is a moving portrait of Jesus drawn entirely from Scripture. Throughout Messiah, Handel mixed Old Testament prophecies with New Testament verses, showing how dramatically Jesus fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures.
One of the most popular pieces from the Christmas section is “For unto Us a Child Is Born,” which draws from Isaiah 9:6:
For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given,
And the government shall be upon
And his name shall be called
The Mighty God,
The Everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace
Just reading these words, many of you probably have the music running through your minds right now. That’s how popular this piece is—and that’s how many of us have come to know this verse as a prophecy about Jesus. In this special Advent issue, we are going to look at the four titles for the “Son” that Isaiah prophesied about. We are also going to look at how Jesus embodies each of these titles. He is a Wonderful Counselor who wants to guide our lives. He is the Mighty God who has authority over all creation. He is an Everlasting Father who leads us and cares for us. And he is the Prince of Peace who teaches us how to walk in peace.
So let’s begin by looking at Jesus the Wonderful Counselor.
An Unsettling World. The world is in so much turmoil right now. From terrorist attacks in foreign countries to violent demonstrations in our city streets, from a widening wealth gap to famine and homelessness, it’s no wonder that many people are left feeling lost and cynical. We wonder, “How am I supposed to live in such a world?”
Many people, from presidents and prime ministers to priests and rabbis and counselors and self-help gurus, offer us assurance and advice. While some of their words can be helpful, none of them can compare with the counsel that Jesus offers us.
So what is it that makes Jesus such a Wonderful Counselor? The obvious answer is that he is the Son of God who knows everything. But there’s more to it than that: Jesus knows what it’s like to walk in our shoes.
Firsthand Knowledge. The heart of the Christmas story is the fact that in Jesus, God became man. Jesus came into the world and lived among us as one of us. He experienced firsthand so many of the joys and hopes, the challenges and disappointments, that we face. He felt the joy of close friendships and the antagonism of enemies. He felt the pull of temptation and the peace that comes from overcoming it. Even those things he didn’t experience himself, he observed closely and felt deeply.
All of these experiences, both good and bad, contributed to make Jesus “a high priest” who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). He knows us intimately because he became like us in every way but sin (2:17).
At the same time, Jesus is also the Son of God, the One in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). He knows what is in our hearts and minds (Mark 2:8; John 2:24-25). Because he is all-knowing, he knows exactly what we need to hear at any given moment!
So when you combine Jesus’ experiences as a man with his wisdom and knowledge as the Son of God, you can see how he deserves the title Wonderful Counselor. Not only does he know exactly what we need to hear, but he can say it to us with great compassion and warmth because he has been through our challenges himself.
Advent Steps. The good news is that Jesus wants to give us his counsel. He wants to help us far more than any parent wants to help their children. The other good news is that it’s not difficult for us to receive his counsel. Here are three simple steps that we can take each day during this Advent season so that we can hear his voice:
• Clear up the static. Sin, when left unconfessed, can block our ability to hear what Jesus wants to say. Just as we hate the static on a cell-phone call, we have to hate our sins because they make it hard to hear Jesus. So clear up the static by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Make it a point, each evening, to ask Jesus to forgive you of any of the smaller sins you may have committed that day.
• Feed your faith. We are most likely to hear Jesus’ counsel as we pray, celebrate the sacraments, and ponder Scripture. So set aside time for him each day of Advent. Physical trainers promise that thirty minutes of exercise a day for thirty days will make “a stronger, healthier you.” The same is true for prayer.
• Be alert. Jesus doesn’t speak only when we are in the quiet of prayer. He is always ready to give us his wisdom and offer us his guidance. This is especially true when we face a challenging decision. So try to stay alert for his voice, his promptings, and his love throughout your day.
Tom’s Story. After hearing a homily on prayer one Sunday, a fellow named Tom decided to set aside time each morning of Advent just for Jesus. He prayed the Lord’s Prayer three times slowly, and he carefully read the Mass readings for that day. Then he read the meditation from The Word Among Us and tried to put into practice what he was learning. After just one week, Tom could see changes. He felt closer to Jesus. He was able to be more kind to people and more cheerful—even when things didn’t go as planned.
Then came a decisive moment. Tom had often found himself at odds with his teenage son. One day, three weeks into his new prayer routine, Tom and his son were on the brink of another argument. Just before things got too heated, Tom stopped himself and told his son, “I am learning how Jesus forgives me. So I want to say that I am sorry for being too critical of you just now. I don’t want us to argue.” Moved by his father’s words, the young man said he, too, was sorry for being so stubborn. The argument never happened. As he looked back on that situation, Tom realized that Jesus had given him the right words to say.
A Constant Presence. If you follow Tom’s example, you will find yourself thinking and acting differently. You’ll be more able to hold your peace. You’ll find a new resolve to hold your anger or to let go of a mood.
So put a plan into place today. See for yourself if fifteen minutes of prayer can lead to a “stronger, more powerful you.” It may not build strong muscles, but it will make you more loving, caring, and peaceful. Everyone you know will see the difference by Christmas day. Guaranteed.
When you look at the baby in the manger this Advent, know that you are looking at the wisest and most compassionate person you could ever meet. Let him become your Wonderful Counselor.