Unto us a Child is Born

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone.

  • You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing

They rejoice before you as a people rejoice at harvest as they exult when dividing the spoils.

  • For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed as on the day of Midian.
  • For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for fire.
  • For a child is born to us a son is given to us upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
  • His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, Upon Daivd’s throne and over his kingdom which he confirms and sustains By judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!

The image of the child fully clothed in a king’s regalia may have been inspired by this oracle of Isaiah. A child destined to become king is presented as a sign of hope for the lands of northern Israel then languishing under the oppressive rule of Tiglath-Pileser III. These are the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali which the Assyrian emperor made into a district (a “galil”) of his empire (cf. Isaiah 8:23). He turned the place into a resettlement area for the people he subjugated. That is why it became “Galilee of the Gentiles”.

Sign of Hope

To Isaiah, the child-king’s appearance is a sign that brings hope. He is the great light that begun to break through the darkness, like the sun that dispels the black of night as it rises at dawn. Though still a child, he is given the titles of a full grown king: “Wonderful Counsellor” to indicate his quality as a king imbued with Wisdom, like Solomon his forebear; “God-Hero” to express his might and strength in battle like David; “Father-Forever”, to highlight the way he is going to deal with people under his reign, like a father to his children; “Prince of Peace” to indicate the condition that will prevail as he rules. This last is further explained in the verse that describes his dominion, vast and peaceful, since he is ging to rule with justice and judgment.

Historically, the child-king of Isaiah 9:5 is Hezekiah, the son of King Ahaz who would later on attempt to free Judah from Tiglath-Pileser III. But Christian reflection on the person of the Christ, especially as it worked from his Resurrection backwards to his ministry and the Incarnation, has seen in Isaiah 9:5 and the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 oracles that refer to Christ. The evangelist Matthew explains how the Immanuel prophecy was realized in the virgin Mary (Matt. 1:23). In the same way, Matthew also shows how Jesus’ moving away from Nazareth to Capernaum was the fulfillment of Isaiah 8:23-9:1. At the beginning of the Galilean ministry then, Jesus is depicted as the light that gradually chases the shadows away (Matt. 4:14-16), anticipating the way he would drive away evil spirits and various sickness wherever he goes. Thus is the full meaning of the oracle of Isaiah unlocked in the person of Jesus Christ; from hope in a kingdom free from the rule of the Assyrians to the in-breaking of the reign of God in the person of Jesus.

Hope in God’s future

To the prophet Isaiah, the appearance of the King-child (the Christ-child, so to speak) was a word-event that turned sadness into joy comparable to the rejoicings at harvest-time or to the boisterous celebration that accompany victors in war as they divide the spoils of conquest. He was a sign that made the prophet look forward to a future – God’s future  — as it becomes present. Hope is precisely that virtue which allows one to hold onto God’s word about His future because one is convinced that “all things work unto the good of those who love God, who are called according to His Purpose (rom. 8:28).”

Hope is not optimism or positive thinking. Rather, it is the unwavering trust in the God who is even now making His future break into the present of human history.

If time is a river in which I am immersed, the future would be the waters that flow from the horizon towards me while the past would be the waters that pass beneath me and away from me. If the future are the waters before me, and the past are the waters behind me, what is the present? The present would be me attaching what the waters are bringing from the horizon towards me. If I anticipate something bad (“Is that a crocodile floating towards me?), that is called fear. If I anticipate something is good (“Is that a piece of log that I can hold onto?”), that is called hope. Those who hope in God’s future do so on the basis of their memory of God; they expect the good because that is what God has taught them to expect. Thus, when Isaiah predicts a future liberation, he does on the basis of memory – “the day of Midian” – a reference to the victory that God gave to Gideon and three hundred of his men against the Midianites and their allies. What made the victory so astounding was that it was procured with only a three hundred casualties (against the enemy’s multitudes – “like locusts” (Jg. 7:12), and with no casualties (since God set the enemy against itself, Jg. 7:22). It was victory that ended Midianite oppression of Israel. The memory of that victory was for Isaiah paradigmatic of the future liberation he expected. But Hezekiah did not meet the expectations of the prophet. In fact, Isaiah had to look to a more distant future for another Davidic king whose reign would bring about the peace that is yearned for (cf. Isaiah 11:1-9).

Hope and the Sto. Nino

And so we look to the Christ-child as the fulfillment of the hopes and expectations expressed in Isaiah 9:1-6. The image of the Sto. Nino shows him holding up the right hand in gesture of mercy while on the left hand he holds the representation of the whole world. It is because he has the whole world in His hands that we can truly hope in Him and trust that inspite all the troubles that the world seems to be in we know that “all things work unto the good of those who love God.” By Fr. Alberto L. Esmeralda, O.S.A.

 

Source: 2014 Souvenir Program of the Fiesta Senor, Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino de Cebu.

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