The Wonder of the Name

Steve Wood

Steve Wood

By Steve Wood –

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. (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

The wonder of God is revealed in the incarnation. The Apostle John launches into this wonder with his Gospel account with the essentialness of the Word becoming flesh in Christ among us and the resulting glory of God being revealed. The Advent season is a celebration of Christ’s coming, but even more a celebration of the expectation of his return in all his glory. My often-weary heart pumps with anticipation and the excitement of the season. This is my favorite time of the year, as we focus on the glory of Christmas, and as Advent becomes a greater grace party year after year.

The wonder of the Christ-child is the cornerstone of Christmas. The breadth and depth of the divine reality that the great I AM has taken on flesh and has come in the life of God’s Son and our Savior is unfathomable to the human mind. God really is with us! God’s glory, promises, presence, grace, authority, love, and joy are ours in the three-in-one.

advent-cover-story-artRecapturing the wonder of “God with us and we with God in Christ” shouldn’t be that difficult, but we soon realize that our Christmas busyness crowds out our focus on the King of Kings and diffuses our awe at Advent. Let’s break the bondage of complication and culture. If you’re too busy being a disciple of Jesus Christ to celebrate his incarnation and the second coming, then you are too busy.

Several months ago our worship team began planning our Advent services. Our goal was to help God’s people recapture the childlike joy of the awe and wonder of God and his name through a focus on Isaiah 9:6. But then we realized that this great news of divine proportion would be shared with a large number of people who may have never captured God’s joy or experienced the awe and wonder of God in the first place. These are people who may worship each Sunday, people who only worship one time this entire year, or people who have never worshipped in a church before. It’s time we awakened to the reality that this is our mission field and plan for them to experience God’s glory.

So how do we tell the most magnificent historical story to those who have heard it so many times they have developed a lifestyle immunity, and also to those who have never heard the Good News before? Regardless of where and how it is presented, there is nothing like oral tradition, because the experience of the awe and wonder of God is unmistakable in the words and actions of those who bear witness of the transforming power of God.

There is no other who demands so many names to even begin to describe who God is and how he is valued. No athlete, celebrity, or politician has this number of names that only begin to describe their greatness — not one.
I want to briefly touch on four of those names: “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace.”

Through the prophet Isaiah, God delivered to the people of Israel something bigger than any gift they (or we) had ever received. An enslaved, dispersed, fractured, rebellious, and a downright sinful nation was surely overwhelmed by this promise from the One who cast a divine vision of hope of being washed white as snow and healed from every infirmity.

“Names in the Hebrew tradition were thought to reveal something decisive of the character of the person named and to convey something of the one named,” wrote Dr. Thomas C. Oden in his classic Systematic Theology. A counselor cannot do his or her work short of a personal relationship, and love is extended unto us in the personhood of God in a personal relationship. And this One is no mere counselor, but our Wonderful Counselor.

Wonderful Counselor. If you wade into the promise of God as Wonderful Counselor, you will find assurance that God’s will and knowledge is his great desire for us. We are, after all, created in his image. God’s desire is that we be redeemed and transformed in the image of Christ and learn our role as his disciples with the holiest of missions. The application of that knowledge and will is called wisdom, which brings glory to God when applied in real life. We can be at peace knowing the Holy Spirit is guiding us into all truth as we wade into deeper waters and deal with human circumstances of scary depths. Christ alone is enough.

As far back as Constantinople, Jewish scholars have debated holding this great name of God in a literal sense as a noun, thus using “Wonder” when referring to God. In John 14:16 we embrace the joy of Jesus’ promise of the parakeltos as God who comes alongside us in the Holy Spirit and comforts, defends, and guides us through deep waters and the storms of life. A part of the joy of expectation during this season is the simple fact that God knows our story, God knows our need and God has the solution. Who else in our relational network brings that to the table?
Mighty God. During Advent, our complaining should give way to a song of hope — even if it is faint. We begin to sing our way forward with supreme assurance that great and awesome is our Mighty God. The One who can both make and keep his promises has come on a search and rescue mission for us all. In the Jewish culture they knew this term well, but also knew it was seldom used because it spoke of a champion like no other. The mighty hero who postures himself against every form of enemy and protects those he leads is a character image of God that we not only take refuge in, but uphold and cheer on as he leads and inspires, even when the waters roll and tumble around us.

Everlasting Father. There is a great joy in being a child of the Everlasting Father whose reign has no end (Isaiah 9:7). His government and peace have no end (Ephesians 2:14). Insurmountable walls are no match for God’s passion and purpose to take care of his children. Only God can break down every wall to show us both in revelation of the Word and in the journey of faith with Christ that we can also add to the list of names, Prince of Peace. A celebration of this covenant relationship is in our every waking breath as the daughters and sons of God most high. Buoyed by God’s grace in this relationship, our joy is that God is with us.

As a spouse and a father of four, there is nothing like the joy of being family-affirmed as loved and significant. God does family better than anybody. The Messianic prophecy is not only fulfilled, but we have the joy of living in this life and the next with the Prince of Peace. Lord, can we even begin to count our reasons to rejoice?

Immanuel. As my grandmother, who lived out her faith in Christ in simplicity though being blind the last eight years of her life, used to say: “We need to be talking more about heaven, for we will be with Jesus and we will be like him.” She was not only a formative theologian in my life, she was an awesome image of Jesus with skin on. She brought definition and witness to God incarnate to all she met.

Advent brings fuel to the fire of expectation to the good news of the Gospel truth of Christ’s return in one word: Immanuel. God is with us, having miraculously cleared the calendar to invite us to come close and abide in his life-giving grace through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Live with joy and expectant faith that the best news of all is, God is with us!

Steve Wood is the senior pastor of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. He is on the board of directors of the Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to General Conference.

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