As One Without Authority

Listen:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

[Isaiah 9:2-7]

24-the-adoration-of-the-magi-1024x7801

The Adoration of the Magi, Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1598.

I grew up with the words “For unto us a child is born….” These words from the prophet Isaiah, and they have found much resonance among Christians, partially through Handel’s Messiah, and partially through the sheer purity of the joy these words express. What is more pure, more beautiful, more innocent, more gracious, than to say “to us a child is born”? This is certainly true if we are parents to the child; it is even more true when we consider that as Christians, we have traditionally seen this text as pointing to and embodying the child who is the Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of God’s created order, Jesus Christ.

Notice too the equally appealing words attached to this simple statement “For unto us a child is born”:

  • “Light”
  • “Wonderful Counselor”
  • “Mighty God”
  • “Everlasting Father”
  • “Prince of Peace”
  • “Endless peace”

These are enormously positive words as well.

Then words in the passage get a little more earthly and move toward a certain concreteness:

  • “Throne”
  • “Kingdom”
  • “Establish”
  • “Uphold”
  • “Justice”
  • “Righteousness”
  • “Forevermore”

Less ethereal than the earlier words, these still speak to deep yearnings in the human heart.

Interspersed, we have sentences which can be jarring to the hopeful cadence we have encountered so far:

  • “Authority rests upon his shoulders”
  • “His authority shall grow continually”
  • “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this”

I am not sure as a society or a people we have as positive place in our hearts for the word “authority.”  In recent years we have grown in recent years to distrust authorities, to discount experts.  We have also seemed on the one hand to yearn for leaders who seem to possess authority and on the other to doubt and distrust authority of human offices and of leaders who occupy those offices. And while we may accept and affirm the “zeal of the Lord of hosts,” we are also distrustful of human zeal, unless of course it is our own.

A central mystery of our faith is that the One who has the greatest authority – God – chooses to become a person who appears “as one without authority.”  One born. One born in a manger. One suffering and dying on the cross. At its heart, and at the most mature place in our faith, the authority of God in Jesus Christ is that of One born “unto us,” “among us,” “within us,” an authority of “light” and “peace” and “counseling” that is said to be “wonderful.” That authority is supreme even as it seems soft. It is zealous even as it whispers to us. It grows continually and lasts forever, even as Christ, it bearer and bringer, is vulnerable much of the time, vulnerable even to the point of death.

“For unto us a Child is born.” A child. A mere child.  But what authority rests upon his shoulders.

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