I find it curious that Isaiah calls the Messiah, God the Son, “Everlasting Father.” As I ponder this conundrum, I am struck by the beautiful dance of the Trinity. At Jesus’ birth, God the Father sends the Son to reveal his very nature. We come to know God the Father through the Son. (Mt 9:27) Jesus embodies and reveals God’s fatherly nature.
It is easy to forget the context of these verses when one imagines a booming choir singing Handel’s chorus, “For unto us a Child is born!” within a pine-decked concert hall, the smell of cinnamon in the air. However, in Isaiah’s time Israel was reeling from the pains of having disappointing kings, of being in constant turmoil. Destruction and war were widespread. In the verse just before Isaiah declares “a child is born,” he mentions “all the garments rolled in blood.” For many who have had tumultuous relationships with their fathers, seeing God as a father is not immediately comforting. It is critical to remember that the light of the Messiah is for a people that are in conflict. In fact, to understand the power of Jesus as Father and Light, one must first confront the deep darkness. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:2, emphasis added). Seeing our own deep darkness alongside Israel’s pain helps us understand the potency of Who is being promised. We all desperately need an Everlasting Father.
So how does the Messiah Jesus embody this? As we take a close look at Jesus’ life, his fatherly nature becomes obvious. Matthew’s gospel seems to particularly highlight this aspect of Jesus’ nature. In Matthew 9, Jesus heals a man who has been paralyzed, saying first, “Take heart, child; your sins are forgiven.” (Mt 9:2) He brings a girl to life by grasping her hand. While on the way, he is not too rushed to notice, listen to and heal a woman who has suffered from chronic illness, saying, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” (Mt 9:18-26)
Jesus seems to be always watching for those who are invisible or pushed aside by others, seeing them with fatherly compassion. Jesus’ disciples try to play gatekeepers and brush away the rambunctious children. But Jesus notices and says, “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.” (Mt 19:13-15) He describes himself as the Good Shepherd: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11) As a father would do, he sacrifices everything for his children.
After noticing these stories, it might be easy to think, ‘well, yes, I suppose Jesus may have cared for some who were in need of a father’s care thousands of years ago. But…he has now disappeared somewhere into the clouds and doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore.’
However, as Everlasting Father, Jesus invites each of us to come to him, share our pains and trust that he will care for us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30)
In my own life, I have known Jesus’ fatherly care very tangibly. As a child, I began calling God, “Abba,” and recognized the ways I could trust him to care for me. In high school, the invitation of Jesus saying, “come to me,” drew me to rely on him. In recent years, I have come to know Jesus’ fatherly protection as he carried my infant daughter back from the brink of death. And again I have come to rely on him as Father as he has tenderly cared for our family in healing from this traumatic situation over the past two years.
I return to Handel’s music and Isaiah’s words. Why are they so powerful? Perhaps precisely because they pierce into the darkness, the despair, the bloodied garments, and offer hope in a True King, an Everlasting Father who has authority over all. This is the good news of Jesus the Messiah! We can join Isaiah in rejoicing, “Great will be his authority and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom” (Is 9:7)!
Advent practices to consider in the light of our messiah, Jesus, the Mighty God:
- Take a few moments to notice the longings that rise in you as you read about Jesus as Father. Scribble a letter to Jesus or make a collage, sharing these longings.
- Remembering that Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me,” close your eyes and imagine sitting in Jesus’ arms. Now look up into his gaze. What do you find there?
- Next time you have trouble falling or staying asleep, picture Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Take deep breaths while whispering,
(breathe in) The Lord
(breathe out) is my shepherd;
(breathe in) I have all
(breathe out) that I need.
Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Mariah Velasquez is Director of the Martin Institute’s Incarnatio Center at Westmont College.