And his name shall be call-ed: Wonderful Counselor. What a name! I hear not just a choir singing Handel, but the newish hymn “His Name is Wonderful” too. Isaiah envisions the birth of a child. Not hard to say “Wonderful!” in the wake of delivery endured, that first cry, cradling the wee one. It can be harder, can’t it, as the child ages… True not just of others, but of ourselves. “Kinda wonderful,” “Wonderful at times,” “Formerly wonderful,” “Wish I were wonderful.”
But notice it’s not “He is wonderful,” but “His name is wonderful.” Our names vary from what’s popular to family names. The names Isaiah gives, or that God gives through Isaiah, are entirely about the heart, mind, character and habits of God. We can call God “God,” but also “Wonderful.” Attending to this brings joy and hope. How wonderful.
Yet it’s not “Wonderful, Counselor,” but “Wonderful Counselor.” The Hebrew here is fascinating. Many scholars feel sure it means “Planner of Wonders.” Who plans wonders? An architect sketched out drawings for Westminster Abbey. A child plucks a few dandelions and present them to his mom. Smart people figured out how to deal with a heart blockage without cutting you open, and others conceived, built and sent the James Webb telescope up into space – which is a wonder, but now reveals to us a mind-boggling perspective on God as “Planner of Wonders.”
I mentioned in a recent sermon that I finally saw Niagara Falls. People were snapping photos to post to Facebook, uttering words like Wow! Geez! A rabbi I know took his children there. Without raising phones, they recited together a prayer they’d memorized years before: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Maker of the Wonders of Creation.”
Lord Kinnoull (so the story goes), after delighting in a performance of The Messiah, complimented Handel on the “entertainment.” Handel replied, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better.” To ponder God as the Planner of Wonders could keep you busy all day every day for the rest of your life – but it also would make you better. It’s called Praise. Praise is the only antidote I know to despair, or to the self-indulgent grip of your own ego, or the withering or false puffing up of the opinions of others.
What greater wonder would God plan than the one Isaiah didn’t really know about clearly but unwittingly hinted at, and yearned for than God come down to us in the person of the infant whom we now can name Emmanuel, Jesus, God with us, Savior? How tenderly generous, kind and compassionate is this God who thought I want them to know my heart, I seek their love?
What’s the one thing we all have in common? Some are tall, others are strong, some are math whizzes, some are drawn to trouble, some aren’t well, some marry, some die young, some are Americans, some are Asian, some have red hair, some battle depression, some have loads of fun – but every one of us got our start as a microscopic next to nothing in the womb of a mother, our mother, no matter how that relationship wound up later on. God planned the ultimate wonder – You, but also him and her, and most wonderful Jesus, who became like You and them so that we might be like Him, redeeming us and all those wonders of Creation from the inside out.
The child’s theologically pregnant name? Emmanuel, God with us. Wonderful Planner of Wonders. But God knows we know this text as Wonderful Counselor. An infant as our Counselor? What counsel would a little baby provide? Is the incessant crying a plea never to forget this Christ child, or all the other vulnerable children? Is the cooing a directive to be gentle and awed by beauty? How can a new born king in the days of Isaiah be just the counsel they needed? How can the birth of the holy child of Mary in Bethlehem have wise direction for us today? Stay tuned.