On the first Sunday of Advent in 2008, we received a call that my father had finally lost his battle with alcoholism. The next week or so, as we drove back and forth to North Carolina to make funeral arrangements, I struggled with a swirl of emotions: grief, loss, and sadness mixed with anger and regret. Here I was in the midst of this fresh loss right smack in the middle of the Christmas season and everything felt raw.
Christmas was hard that year.
That year, I found particular comfort in the familiar words from Isaiah 9 we read and sing so often during the Christmas season. That year, I clung to these words like never before.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned… 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: 2, 6
While professional counselors can be an important part of our support system during difficult times in our life, this version of the word “counselor” means much more. In this context, the word counselor would be better translated as “extraordinary strategist,” more like someone with the capacity for planning a winning military strategy than a therapist.
Jesus is a “strategist” that is more wonderful than we can comprehend or understand because he sees the big picture that I cannot. Those times in my life when I don’t know where to turn, when I am confused, troubled or looking for answers, I can experience Jesus as my wonderful counselor. As I seek his wisdom, the answer may come as that still small voice in my spirit, in the wise words of a friend, in the discovery of the perfect scripture, or perhaps just enough strength to endure a situation where the answer is still unknown to me. With that gift of wisdom or insight, comes the incomprehensible realization that I am never alone.
There are times in our lives when our circumstances are just too big, too scary, too overwhelming to face. For me, it is the mightiness of God that is the antidote to fear. God’s power, strength and influence mean that we can rest in his embrace and turn our worry, fear and uncertainty over to him. Even when we don’t understand why something is happening, we can rest assured that he is ultimately in control and that we are never alone in the midst of our struggles. We can retire every day as the General Manager of the Universe because he is on the job. When life doesn’t make sense, I need a Mighty God who is bigger than even the most difficult circumstances I face.
Everlasting Father is the perfect picture of God’s eternal, personal, intimate love for each of us. God loves us because he created us for the purpose of loving us. This love is personal and intimate; like a parent and child. When my youngest was a toddler, there was a period of time while she was learning to talk that I was the only one who could understand her. Because I knew her so well, I could anticipate her needs and understand her in ways that others couldn’t.
Our Heavenly Father knows us and loves us even more than the best earthly parent. He created us and knows our every thought. He knows our hurts and knows how to comfort us. He loves us so much that he even knows the number of tears we have cried. When life feels like more than I can handle, I cling to the promise of a Father who sees my tears and loves me so much that he will never leave me or forsake me.
Prince of Peace
During difficult times in our life, peace might be the most elusive thing of all. When we are dealing with a season of loss or despair in our life, there are many conflicting emotions: sadness, anger, regret, anxiety, maybe even relief or guilt in some circumstances. The year my dad died, I struggled with a myriad of feelings. I was sad that he was gone. I was angry with him for continuing to drink when he knew that it would likely end his life. I was devastated that when he called on Thanksgiving Day, I was too busy to talk to him and said I would call him back and now I would never get that chance. And, if I was completely honest, I was relieved that this battle we had waged for 30 years with his alcoholism was finally over, while I simultaneously felt guilt for being relieved.
Grief, fear, sadness and despair are messy, complicated and inconvenient any time of the year. At Christmas, difficult feelings are magnified by the contrast to the joy and celebration around us. That Christmas, I particularly needed to know this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father on a personal level. And that Christmas, like no other before, I desperately needed a Prince of Peace. There is no earthly peace to be found in much of what life throws at us, yet Jesus promises us his peace, which is altogether different.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The gift that keeps on giving!