December 24, 2017 “Government” – Isaiah 9:2-7
December 24, 2017 – Christmas Eve
In his essay On Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau embraced the motto, “That government is best which governs least.” It was not said by Thomas Jefferson, but by Thoreau arguing for civil disobedience to abolish slavery and to end war with Mexico. We worry when our political leaders take too much authority upon themselves, even for the best of reasons. Politicians usually win applause for promising less government rather than more.
So take note of the prophecy made about the Messiah in verse 7. In King James language, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” In the modern translation, “His authority will grow continually…” Why, to we who love freedom, should this be good news? What good could possibly come of unending, ever-increasing government?
Danger can change one’s perspective on government. After 9/11, many of us embraced or at least learned to live with an increase of government authority that appears every time we go to get on a plane. As Isaiah spoke this prophecy, Israel both in the north and the south was led by kings of diminishing strength. A huge threat lay on the horizon in the growing power of the Assyrian empire. People hoped and prayed for a government which could protect them. They feared the weapons of their enemies more than they feared the abuses of a king with too much power.
So Israel hoped, as some Americans have hoped, for leadership which could do what verses 4 and 5 predicted. They wanted a king who could break the yoke of fear and get rid of the instruments of war.
Yet human leaders are always imperfect. The constant presence of cameras and microphones and the ubiquitous reach of the Internet makes apparent and public every single error, lie, foolish remark and past misdeed from our leaders. Just look at all the leaders in entertainment, business and government being brought down by their past attacks on women and even on other men. As much as we want and need good leaders, they are terribly difficult to find. When their imperfections come to light it’s a huge disappointment. Perfect government seems like a dream.
That is why the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy became even then a cherished promise of something totally different, a new kind of leader. A child would be born to shoulder the government. He would be “Wonderful Counselor” and “Mighty God.” In other words, He would combine the wisdom of Solomon with the strength of David. He would be “Everlasting Father” and “Prince of Peace,” offering the impossible dream of an endless reign of peace on earth.
We are here tonight in the faith that that Child has been born. Seven hundred years after Isaiah wrote these words, shepherds heard the message that the dream had come true. A child had been born, and He was the Messiah hoped for. He was Christ the Lord.
In coming into the world as He did, that baby demonstrated Thoreau was not all wrong. The perfect government God had planned had very much of a “least” quality to it. The Messiah, the Christ, did not come in the trappings of power, but in the most humble circumstances. As St. Augustine put it long ago:
Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
Disposer of all ages
in the bosom of the Father,
He consecrates this day
in the womb of His mother.
In Him He remains,
from her He goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was made on earth under heaven.
He is wisely speechless;
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger;
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at His mother’s breast.
He is both great in the nature of God
and small in the form of a servant.
We worship God’s Son tonight as our humble governor, as our servant king. He governs best by becoming least in all the world. He rules over us by giving up His life for us. As I said this morning, Jesus Christ was born homeless so that we could have a home in Him.
The best earthly governors have been those who followed the lead of Christ by serving more than they wielded power. I’ve always liked the carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” It was written 130 years ago by John Mason Neale. Wenceslas was actually Wenceslaus duke of Bohemia in the tenth century. Nurtured by the faith of his believing grandmother, he brought Christianity to his people.
Wenceslas cared deeply for the people he ruled. He went out often, not just once as the song might suggest, to bring food and aid to the poor people of his country. He went at night so as not to embarrass them by the charity he offered.
After only five years of gentle rule, the good king became a martyr, murdered by his unbelieving brother. The Czech people have made Wenceslas their national saint, beloved for his goodness and generosity. A huge statue of him stands at the center of the city of Prague. Before the fall of the Communist regime in Poland, demonstrations against the evil government were held there.
Good King Wenceslas is a fitting image of the Lord he served. The song tells how he went out into a bitter cold night to bring food and firewood to a poor man. In the same way Christ our Lord came down from heaven on a dark winter night to bring salvation to us all. Jesus came to find us in our spiritual poverty, bringing the bread of life and the warmth of His grace and love to all who believe in Him.
That song about Wenceslas didn’t just tell about him helping a poor man. It sings about a servant, a page, who followed him out into the snow helping carry the food and fuel. That follower of Wenceslas lost heart as the cold sank into his body. But when he called out to the king, a miracle occurred. As the page stepped where the king had stepped in the snow, warmth flowed up into him and revived him.
So our Lord Jesus didn’t just come into the cold and dark of our world to save us and take us to heaven. He came to call us to follow Him, to walk in His steps, to do the kind of things He did, to reach out in love and generosity to people around us.
Tonight as we celebrate His birth, I invite you to trust in the governing of Christ. As Isaiah prophesied, and as we will sing in a little bit, His peace will someday rule this whole earth. Jesus will come again and set up a perfect government which will have no end. Especially this year, that is a glorious hope and promise.
In the meantime, Jesus Christ would like to govern your life. The world may not be at peace, but you can know peace in Him. He is not yet Prince of every nation, not even of this nation, but He is now already the Prince of Peace for everyone who believes. What Isaiah said in verse 6, and the angels said to Israel and the shepherds, they also say to you: “To you a child is born, a Son is given, a Savior.” This Son of God and Savior would like to rule in your life by offering you the gift He brings.
Another legend about Wenceslas is that a Count Radislas led a rebellion against him. Duke Wenceslas sent an offer of peace to Radislas and his army but it was rejected. In order to avoid a huge battle and the deaths of many innocent soldiers, Wenceslas challenged Radislas to single combat. But when Radislas approached to fight the duke he saw by Wenceslas’ side two angels who shouted, “Stand off!” Radislas was dismayed, repented, and threw himself at Wenceslas’ feet to beg forgiveness. The duke gently forgave him and restored him to his favor.
Jesus is our good King ready to forgive all our rebellion. In the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ all your sins can be forgiven and forgotten. If you never have before, I urge you to repent, quit rebelling, and accept and receive that pardon tonight. Pray a simple prayer and ask the Savior who was born to us to be your Savior too. Ask Him to forgive your sins and be your Lord. He will come into your heart and begin to rule there.
As I said, the rule of Christ, His perfect government over you, goes beyond just saving you from your sins. He will certainly do that and set you free from the burden and the guilt. But then He invites us to follow in His steps. As that page followed Good King Wenceslas through the snow, you and I are called to struggle along behind Jesus, living the kind of humble servant life He lived, doing good and loving others even when it’s hard. And when you do, you will also find, like the page did, that God’s Son will give you warmth and strength for every step. His love will melt the cold from your heart and you will find yourself already within His everlasting kingdom of peace.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj
 This story is paraphrased from how it’s told in the Wikipedia entry for “Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenceslaus_I,_Duke_of_Bohemia.