Reclaiming the propaganda (Anna Drew)

Isaiah 9:2-7

“For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Sound familiar? This reading will soon be heard in churches across the world, at Midnight Mass and Christmas Day services, as we celebrate the coming of our saviour in the person of a tiny, vulnerable baby. For thousands of years, Christians have used this prophecy from Isaiah, written 800 years before the birth of Christ, to speak about who Jesus is and what he means for humanity.

So I was a little surprised to discover these words probably weren’t originally written about Jesus. In fact, the evidence seems to be that Isaiah chapter 9 verses 2-7 were written as an oracle for the enthronement of the Judean king Hezekiah. All these wonderful things the prophet says were not about Jesus, or even about God – instead, they were written to tell the people what a wonderful, just and marvellous king Hezekiah would be to his people. It was a manifesto, saying that he would liberate them from oppression and bring peace to his people. A kind of eighth century BC propaganda, if you like. The idea was that the King would be ‘born of God’, empowered by God to fulfil all these promises to his people. Can you imagine such words being spoken of prime ministerial candidates in the run up to the general election? I’m not sure we’d fall for it today, but these are interesting times.

But, rather than ruining Christmas for me, this discovery has made me even more excited about proclaiming these words on December 25.

The people for whom this promise was originally made had lived through endless battles. At times they had seen grave oppression and sometimes they’d oppressed others. They were sick of the sound of the boots of trampling warriors, sick of the bloodshed and the slavery of war. These words were spoken for a broken people in the desperate hope that this time, this King, would be the one to make things better. That this would be the turning point in Israel’s fortunes.

And what I love about this passage is the way we use it at Christmas. What we do is we take false words that weren’t true and could never be true of an earthly king, president, prime minister or party leader. And we make these words true, we make them right, we make them good by assigning them to their proper subject.

The reality is that no one other than Jesus Christ could deliver on these promises. Spoken about anyone else they are a lie. But in a few weeks’ time we will reclaim the propanda. We will reclaim these words for the lost and broken people that we are and for the lost and broken people around us and we will make them true by assigning them their proper subject.

Now I think that’s exciting.

And something that Jesus does in our lives is reclaim the rubbish, reclaim the bad things that happen to us and the terrible things we have to deal with. He reclaims those and gives them their proper place. He says to us that we are not defined by our sin, nor by the sins of others or the abuse meted out to us. And he helps us to take those burdens off, to strip them away and reclaim our true selves as children of God.

In all the hype of the run-up to Christmas, we all called to see past the propaganda and the flashy trimmings of the season, the reclaim the truth of the season and to get ready to proclaim a subversive Gospel.

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