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Call Him By His Name: Starlight In A Star-Crossed World

Isaiah 9:2-7

Webster’s dictionary defines the word “star-crossed” this way: “Not favored by the stars; ill-fated.”

The word speaks to us of the fact that at one time or another, in some way or another, every people on the face of the earth have attributed their fate to the stars. Throughout the course of history, one can find repeated evidence of the belief that somehow the stars control human destiny for good or for ill. Shakespeare’s King Lear cries out: “It is the stars, the stars above us, that govern our conditions.” Modern expressions of that age-old cry are to be found in astrology and in horoscopes and in various facets of the occulto And when things in the world or in our individual lives seem to be working for ill, we then apply that word “star-crossed.”

The word has some significance for us today. For as I have thought of Isaiah writing these verses in his ninth chapter, I have seen him standing in the midst of what could easily be called a “star-crossed world.” All about him, empires were rising up in awesome power and falling down in death and devastation. Tiglath-Pilesen was leading the Assyrian hordes on a bloody rampage through the Fertile Crescent. King Rezin was taking the Kingdom of Syria down to a dusty death. The twenty-third dynasty was on the throne in Egypt, ruling with a power that was heartless, aloof, austere and excessively cruel. And here in the midst of this time when the flags of old empires were falling and the flags of new empires were rising—here stands Isaiah in a tiny land which was nothing, an unwitting pawn on the great chessboard of international conquest. Yes, one might well have said that Isaiah was living in a star-crossed world.

Not only that, but he was living in a star-crossed land. His nation had become a nation rotten to its very core. On every high hill false gods were being honored. Little babies were being burned as offerings to the blasphemous god, Moloch. The rich were getting richer and the poor, poorer. Thousands would go to sleep at night listening to the pathetic whimperings of their hungry children. So depressing and distressing was this spectacle to the sensitive man of God that he proceeded to write some of the most poignant passages in all of the Scriptures.

Yet, as Isaiah stood in a star-crossed land in the midst of a star-crossed world, he turned his prophetic gifts to the years that were yet to come. And when he looked ahead, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he saw a star rising above the Judean hillsides—not a star that would curse, but a star that would bless. And when he saw that star, he heralded the words that have etched themselves into all of our memories: “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called…Everlasting Father.” That’s what God’s starlight did for Isaiah in the midst of that star-crossed world—it showed him the promise of an Everlasting Father.

That was a brand new concept to be brought into the world. There are many who think that the idea of the fatherhood of God is a common belief amongst the world’s religions. Not so. There is, for example, no room for a concept of father in the austerity of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Moslems, in their sacred book, the Koran, have 99 names for God, but the word “father” is not to be found among them. Even the Jews to whom Isaiah was speaking in his prophecy—they on rare occasions called God “Father” but He was most personally known as Judge, as Ruler, as Lord of hosts. Yet here Isaiah breaks with tradition and with history and he boldly proclaims that “Unto us a child is bom—one who will love us like a father loves his children.”

But how does a father love? You know, words take on meaning for us because of our experience with the reality which these words represent. For example, I remember in seminary days, I was asked to lead a devotional period at a home for difficult boys. The minister, under whom I was working at the time, suggested that I not refer to God as Father in the presence of those boys. Their own fathers had left upon them the marks of ugliness. Sometimes the marks were from physical beatings; in every instance there were the marks of tragic mental and emotional scars. The word “father” to those boys was an ugly word. So, the minister said: “Do not call God ‘Father’ in front of them.”

I suppose there are some who see the word “father” as representing tragedy and ugliness. But it was not so for Jesus. For Jesus, the Father was the source of strength, of supply, of courage. He was uplifting, enabling, loving—that was the meaning of the word “father” to Jesus. And Jesus’ concept of the heavenly Father did not come from His memories of the Kingdom of heaven. For Paul says that He emptied Himself of that consciousness when He took upon Himself our human flesh. No, I think that when Jesus spoke of God the Father so glowingly, so lovingly, so magnificently, His thinking was shaped by that one who had been to Him like a father: Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth.

How it must have been. Jesus, as a little boy would crowd His way into the workshop and His Dad would always stop what he was doing to talk for a moment or to lovingly grab the little boy up and roll Him in the soft pile of sawdust until the bits of wood mingled with His dark Jewish curls. And maybe it was this ready access to His father’s shop which led Jesus later to say: “Never prohibit a child from coming to me.”

And did they go for long walks in the fields about Nazareth, perhaps to pick flowers for Mary? And was it then that the seed was planted, which later grew in the mind of our Saviour, moving Him to say: “Consider the lilies of the field how they grow…” As they walked together, did Joseph tell the boy how they had escaped Herod by taking that long,demanding, hazardous journey to Egypt? Was it then that Jesus began to tie into the concept of fatherhood the virtues of courage and bravery? And as they climbed higher up into the nearby hills and came to places where fresh water collected itself in shining, glimmering pools, and as they skipped rocks over the mirrored surface of that water, was it then that Jesus began to imagine what it would be like to have streams of living water welling up within? And when they reached the heights where they could sit down and see the caravan routes stretching off in all directions toward the horizon was it then that Jesus began to lay hold of his idea that He would later express this way: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…?” And the lovely tenderness which Jesus saw Joseph give to Mary, was it this that led the Master to raise womankind to the highest level possible—a level never known before or since?

Or think of the time when Jesus, age 12, stood in the temple at Jerusalem and the rabbis were astonished at His understanding. Was it because of the hours He had spent with His earthly father, on the cool rooftop in the evening, studying God’s Word and listening intently as Joseph told Him again and again the great stories of the Old Testament? Jesus spoke of talents and the way we are to use them. Were His thoughts and words shaped by the fact that He had seen Joseph develop his carpentry skills to virtual perfection, that He had seen Joseph pour everything of which he was capable into everything that he did? And was it Jesus’ deep appreciation for His father’s work that led Him later on to say so beautifully, “Take my yoke upon you, for it is easy and my burden is light?”

Yes, I think those are the things that led Jesus to call God His “Father”. And that means that when we think of God, we can think of Him as that kind of Father—One who lifts us and loves us and cares for us and is willing even to die for us. That kind of Father! And so, when we see the star of Christmas shining in the midst of the star-crossed world, we can remember that it speaks to us of One who loves us like a father: loves his children.

But Isaiah says that our Saviour will be not only a Father, but an Everlasting Father. That is, He will be a Father forever.

There are two ways in which you can be a father. You can be the father of someone, or you can be a father to someone. To be a father of someone is simply a biological function it has no great significance in and of itself. But to be a father to someone—that means to care for them, to love them, to teach them, to play with them, to be tolerant of them, when intolerance would be easier, to be patient with them when impatience would be easier. For, you see, it is infinitely more difficult to be a father to someone than to be a father of someone. Put in simplest form: to be a father to someone takes continued presence and continued concern. And that’s what Isaiah says about our Lord. He is an Everlasting Father! He comes to us across the centuries and He is continually present with us. I do not speak to you today in memory of a memory. I am not talking to you about that which was said back then but is not real now. I talk to you of a Christ who comes to us now and who is continually with us.

You say to me: “Well, if that is true, then point Him out.” I cannot do it. I cannot say, “There He is,” or “Here He sits,” or “He may be found over there.” There was a film some years back called “The Invisible Man,” based on H.G. Wells’ story. You never saw the invisible man. But you could see his footprints in the earth. Well, just so, I can’t say that Jesus is here or Jesus is there. But I can show you the prints of His love in the lives of Christians. I can take you into the lives of individuals right here in this congregation who are giving what they have—the fruit of their minds, the fruit of their backs, the fruit of their spirits—giving what they have and what they are to educate the uneducated, to love the unlovable, to make well those who are sick, and to lift up those who have fallen flat on their faces in the dust. When we see that kind of living and that kind of loving, we know that it is because Jesus Christ is continually present in their hearts. And when we have seen that, my friends, we have seen God’s Christmas starlight in this star-crossed world.

But we can’t stop there. For not only is our Lord continually present with us, but He is continually concerned about us. Not only does He come to us across the centuries, but He comes to us in spite of our conduct!

That simply means that no sin of ours, no act of evil or pride or hatred or arrogance, no expression of selfishness or greed—nothing can frustrate, nothing can bring to an end, nothing can terminate His magnificent love for us. Not that we are lovable—we are not—but that there is in Him a magnificent love which simply cannot be stopped.

Jesus spoke of it again and again, but I think never more clearly than in the story of that son who sought freedom and ended up in slavery, that son who started out in haughtiness and ended up in hell, that son who later on “came to himself” and went running back to a father who stood waiting with arms spread wide in welcome. That’s what the continuing concern, the continuing love of our Father is. For He is a Father whose arms are stretched as wide as Calvary’s Cross with a love that is always ready to welcome us home.

You want that in everyday language drawn out of the crucible of our own time! All right, then. Hang on tight. Here comes a true story related by Frederick Breckner. He calls it “a parable of our 20th century lives.” It’s a story almost too terrible to tell. It’s the newspaper account of a boy of fourteen who, in a crazed fit of anger and depression, grabbed a gun and fired it at his father who died not immediately but shortly thereafter. When the authorities asked the boy why he had done such a thing, he replied vehemently that he could not stand his father. His father demanded too much of him. His father was always after him about something. The boy said: “I hate him.” Strange thing. Later on, in the House of Detention where he was confined, the guard patrolling the corridor heard sounds in the night and stopped to listen. What he heard was this boy sobbing and saying over and over again: “I want my father. I want my father.” That’s what we all want. Oh, sometimes we may not act like it—but that’s what we all want. We want our Father—our Everlasting Father.

Christmas is eight days away. Preparations for the great day are in full swing. So, it’s kind of nice, isn’t it, to come together for a little while here in the beauty and the quiet loveliness of this place to share our thoughts and to share our hearts. It’s kind of nice, and so in the warm intimacy of this moment I want to share with you a thought I keep tucked away in the corner of my heart.

I sometimes envision myself standing before the throne of God. Before me is a great scale—a great balance. On the left hand side of the balance the Devil has heaped all my sins. On the right hand side, the angels are desperately looking for something to try to balance the scale. No use. The scale drops to the left with a sickening thud. All is lost. But then suddenly I hear a sound. A very small sound. A very small metallic sound. A nail is dropped on the side of righteousness. Then another nail. And another. And still another. I know not where those nails come from a manger in Bethlehem or from a cross on Calvary, but this much I do know: the balance tipped. By the loving grace of Jesus Christ, I am saved.

Yes, that’s what we want. I don’t care who we are, that’s what we want. What was it that King Lear said: “It is the stars, the stars above us, that govern our conditions.” On no, Lear, you’re wrong. It is a single star, the Star of Christmas, God’s Star that shines in our star-crossed world—that’s what governs our condition. For that Star speaks to us of the God who comes to us as a loving, redeeming, Everlasting Father.

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