Text: Isaiah 9:6-7 and Galatians 3:26-29–Galatians 4:1-7
I recently stumbled onto a website called ChristianAnswers.net. On this site are listed more than 170 Christmas movies. I noticed one I’ve seen twice; when I saw the title, it all came back to me. The movie, The Kid Who Loved Christmas, was produced in 1990. It is a heart-warming story about a fictitious Chicago couple in the process of adopting an orphaned boy during the holidays when, unexpectedly, a drunken driver kills the wife, on a cold night. The little boy is taken from his daddy to be placed, again, in foster care. It looks as if the adoption will not go through as a result of the “Scrooge spirit” of the chief social worker, who, herself, grew up as a foster child, orphaned from her parents.
Near the movie’s end, she has a change of heart and one is left thinking the adoption took place as the movie ends. Midway through this Christmas drama, the little boy, who desperately wants to be with his “daddy” on Christmas, writes a letter to Santa Claus. “Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is to be with my daddy. Love, Reggie.”
After watching that movie in 1994, I reflected on the first Christmas without my daddy. It was 1968. I was twelve years old. We went to my Aunt Hazel’s in Fredonia, Ky., not too far from nowhere. Aunt Hazel and her husband, Lewis, along with their oldest son, Sonny, made the thirty-mile drive Christmas morning to Cadiz in their pick-up truck. Uncle Lewis and I rode in the back. I still remember him keeping me warm that sunshiny, yet cold day. I had a wonderful time on their farm for a couple of days, but all I could think about was getting back home to see my best friend, Jeannie McCormick, who lived down the street. We had grown up together.
I suppose we had played, either at her house or mine, every day from the time we were two or three. Jeannie and I had much in common that Christmas. Her daddy died in August and my daddy died in November. Jeannie’s mother had left them at an early age. She really was orphaned. Fortunately her uncle, along with her grandmother, adopted and reared her. All Christmas Day I wondered if Jeannie had been thinking what I had been thinking.
When Momma and I finally got back home on December 27, I went immediately to Jeannie’s house. We talked about all the things we had done on Christmas and the gifts we had gotten. Both of us confessed, though, that all we really wanted that Christmas was our daddies. I remember us holding each other as we cried.
Isaiah reminded a disheartened people, who felt abandoned, that “…a child is born…a son is given…And he will called…Everlasting Father…” (Isaiah 9:6). That’s a puzzling name for a baby in a manger. Why would this intelligent spiritual leader eight centuries before the birth of Jesus say such a thing? Why would Messiah be given the name “Everlasting Father” or more literally, “Father of Eternity?” Can a father last forever? In my case and Jeannie McCormick’s case and many of your cases, the answer, at least for now, is “No.”
Isaiah made the point, however, that no matter what comes to anybody in life, nothing can impede the abiding presence of God. This sagacious forth-teller of old wants us to realize that Messiah has an everlasting purpose and that purpose is embodied in this name. The name, “Everlasting Father,” is associated with God’s provision for His people. Thus, the lighting of the Candle of Provision on this Third Sunday of Advent. God’s provision brings us great joy and so in this name one may recognize an elation that forms one of the central themes for Advent.
One of the Hebrew names bestowed upon God is “Yahweh” or “Adonai El Olam” – “the Lord, Everlasting God.” The writer of Genesis made the observation that Abraham worshipped at Beersheba after making a treaty with Abimelech. The text in Genesis 21:33notes that Abraham worshipped “the eternal Lord God.” In the second section of Isaiah, the Prophet calls Him the “Eternal God” in Genesis 40:28. In third section of Isaiah, the prophet declares that the Lord is a “Father” in Isaiah 63:16 and Isaiah 64:8. Jeremiah emphasizes that God desires to be a Father to His people in Jeremiah 3:19: “I have always wanted to treat you as my children and give you the best land, the most beautiful on earth. I wanted you to call me ‘Father’ and not turn from me.” Sadly, His children did turn from Him. In the New Testament, and especially in the Gospel of John, one can readily observe that God is viewed as a Father.
Messiah is constantly taking care of those who are related to Him. None of us can say we don’t want or need some sort of emotional care. We need the assurance of physical touch, an embrace, a word that will uplift, and one that reminds us that Another is there for us. Even though little children may lose a parent or parents in death, even though big children may lose a parent or parents in death, even though some children in this world grow up parent-less for whatever reason, God is there to provide.
And what He provides is surprising. He grants the provision of life, life that is abundantly full of everlasting meaning. If we should covet something in this Advent Season, if there is one thing we should really want this Christmas, it ought to be the provision of Everlasting Life.
What do you want for Christmas?
Lists tend to get longer each year for some. When Emily and Nicholas were small children, they would see something advertised on television. I can still hear wee little voices, “I’m getting that for Christmas.” There would be a dozen or so things they would be getting. Most of it they didn’t need, so they didn’t get most of it. Truth be known, I’m afraid most of us want too much of the wrong thing and not enough of the right thing. We exemplify this in how much we spend on ourselves.
I came across an article entitled “Save Us From Christmas Spending.” I learned that the average credit card indebtedness in the United States is more than $10,000.00. We really do spend too much. The American Research Group notes that the average spending per person this year will be down about four percent from last year – from $942.00 to $907.00. I’m glad it is down, but that is still a lot of money to spend on each person for whom you buy. At my house that would mean me spending $2,721.00 – and that doesn’t include our dog, Kiwi. Not going to happen!
Have you heard about the group called SCROOGE? SCROOGE stands for “The Society to Curtail Ridiculous Outrageous and Ostentatious Gift Exchanges.” Founded in 1979 by Chuck Langham of Charlottesville, Va., SCROOGE focuses on how nobody seems to go overboard with any other holiday. A couple of nice gifts just aren’t enough. You are encouraged, even made to feel guilty, if you don’t spend hundreds of dollars on each person for whom you buy.
SCROOGE encourages Christmas shoppers to spend no more than one percent of their gross annual income. If one makes $50,000.00, one only spends $500.00. SCROOGE doesn’t want to hurt businesses; they just want sensibility. As you can imagine, studies indicate that an overwhelming majority of folk are opposed to SCROOGE. Spend! Spend! Spend! Want! Want! Want! Get! Get! Get!
It is tragic that many of us have no desire to be like Reggie, that little boy in the movie The Kid Who Loved Christmas, who only wanted to be with his daddy on Christmas. A clearer picture of who we may be and what our desires may be is revealed in three comic strips.
The first depicts another little boy, unlike Reggie, on Christmas morning. With his mother and father standing next to the Christmas tree in their robes looking like mommies and daddies look when they first get up in the mornings, he is sitting in the floor in a sea of toys including boats, drums, a bicycle, trucks, cars, an electric train, a chemistry set, a guitar, a baseball glove and bat, a basketball, a bow and arrows, an airplane, and a crane. After opening everything, which obviously was for him, he looks up at his mom and dad and rather disgustedly says, “Santa forgot some things. How many days until my birthday?”
The second cartoon shows Santa Claus holding his leg, obviously in pain, after a kid kicked him in the shin. The caption from the kid reads, “That’s for last year!”
Then there is the third comic. On one side of the cartoon, Santa is sitting in his chair holding a little guy who points to the toy section of the store. The caption reads: “We could save ourselves a lot of time and energy if you’ll just follow me over to that toy store and get me the stuff I want right now.”
We want too much of the wrong thing and not enough of the right thing. We get angry when we don’t get what we want or think we deserve. And we are prone to take shortcuts and thus get what we want. All of this is representative of the wrong thing. We’ve simply not come to realize that the wrong thing will not last forever. The right thing does.
This is why, “when the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him” (Galatians 4:4). In Galatians 4, Paul seized the moment with an early confession of faith drawn from the worship and proclamation, including baptism, in the Christian congregations of the mid first century AD. When the time was exactly right, a child was born. A son was given. And He was given the name Everlasting Father.
Did you hear the “father” language throughout this text? Emphatically Paul asserts, “…that God is our Father” (Galatians 4:6). Did you grasp the fact that in Jesus Christ we are children of a God who is a Father, a Father who is a God? A literal God-Father as well as a Father-God. He is Everlasting. This is so paradoxical. In the Manger is a Baby who is a Father. Unbelievable! And this Father is “everlasting to everlasting,” to borrow language from the Psalms.
What Do You Need This Christmas?
Through this Child we are granted what we need. And what we really need is life as it comes to us from a Father who lasts forever. So the question I posed at the outset, “Can a father last forever?” is thus answered in the affirmative. Yes, at least one Father can. All of our toys, gadgets, clothes, all the things of this earthly life, let’s face it: they aren’t going to last forever. But a relationship with Bethlehem’s Child does. This Child introduces us to an Eternal Father who always provides what we need, not what want, but what we need.
In fact, our relationship with this Everlasting Father is such that we, His adopted children, can come into His presence just as if we weren’t adopted at all. So I really am a son of God. Jackie really is a daughter of God. All of us, who are in Christ, are children of God. We aren’t orphaned! He really is our Daddy. He really does embody what parenthood concerns. He is the kind of parent that wants us to come to Him with our grief, our trouble, our anxiety and our hopelessness as we confront the reality of things not lasting forever.
While editing notes in The Quest Study Bible, Marshall Shelley underwent a test of faith. His wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter severely retarded and completely invalid. Eighteen months later, a second child was born who lived for only one minute. Six months after that, their first child died. Shelley said he was obligated to ask God his most honest questions. He said, “God’s not offended by that. In fact, He invites it!”
Only an “Everlasting Father” could invite us to bring to Him all the emotional and spiritual junk that we’ve been carting around for years. This Everlasting Father born in Bethlehem’s barn grew to die and be resurrected from the dead so we could make it through this earthly life, a life that is cruel where children are sometimes born retarded, where children sometimes die from hunger and disease, where children are abused by earthly parents and the system of slick and sick greed and exploitation. It’s a world in which we big children have gotten our priorities all fouled up, thinking we really need something, when, in reality, we know we don’t need it at all. Each of us suffers from the harshness of this earthly life.
That’s why I’m glad there is an Everlasting Father who listens to us and provides for us. He grants to us what we need. And He knows what we need better than we know what we need. To borrow from a sitcom of the 1950s, “the Everlasting Father Knows Best!” So when you are tempted in these days to rely upon the provision of the world, I invite you to remember the provision that comes from Jesus Christ. A Child.
A Child, a Child is born for us;
A Son is given unto you and me.
He is the Gladness of eternity;
for He was born to set all people free.
Everlasting Father is His name;
Forever caring for His children’s pain.
Creator and Sustainer of our lives;
Protecting us throughout these days of strife.
A Child! A Child is born for us, and Everlasting Father is His name.
Depart, now, into this Advent Day, under the mercy of God, your Heavenly Father.
And as you go, remember:
Through the Generosity of God, you have been granted all that is
necessary for the journey by a Benevolent Father;
In the Kindness of God, you have been forgiven your sins and restored
to the joy of your salvation through the tenderness of a Good Son; and
In the Love of God, you are being renewed and sealed for the Day of the
Lord by a Providential Spirit.
Glory be to the Lord God – now and for all time to come. Through Jesus Christ.
Bethlehem’s Child. The Everlasting Father. Amen and Amen.
–Jimmy Gentry is Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Carrollton, Ga.
Scripture references within the text are from the Contemporary English Version, 1995, unless otherwise noted.