Fergal Keene’s newborn son, Daniel Patrick Keane, was born on February 4 1996 at the Seventh-day Adventist Hospital in Hong Kong, Britain’s last Asian colony. The letter, for some a literary classic, was broadcast 11 days later. Keene describes how he typed his letter, holding his son to himself with one arm and typing with the other.
Writes the doting dad, “Naturally your mother and I . . . wanted you and waited for you, imagined you and dreamed about you and now that you are here no dream can do justice to you.”
Further on he writes, “And it’s also true that I am pained, perhaps haunted is a better word, by the memory, suddenly so vivid now, of each suffering child I have come across on my journeys. To tell you the truth, it’s nearly too much to bear at this moment to even think of children being hurt and abused and killed. And yet looking at you, the images come flooding back.”
He recalls the genocide in Rwanda. Keene comes across as very sensitive to the good and evil in our world, and frets that his own newborn will not come to the harm of which he has seen so much.
In closing his letter he says, “Yet now Daniel, I must tell you that when you let out your first powerful cry in the delivery room of the Adventist Hospital and I became a father, I thought of your grandfather and, foolish though it may seem, hoped that in some way he could hear, across the infinity between the living and the dead, your proud statement of arrival. For if he could hear, he would recognise the distinct voice of family, the sound of hope and new beginnings that you and all your innocence and freshness have brought to the world.”
Among the materials within ‘A Letter To Daniel’ that registered with me was the subtitle, “Amidst all the evil of this world my dear son, yours is the cry of hope.” And he had seen much, and we could list more since, including Iraq and Afghanistan. And we could add more from what takes place in the darker social side of the UK.
It takes me back to when speaking to the serpent (or Satan) God promised in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”
Our first parents lost their dominion over the world given to them by God through the medium of a serpent and so joined with the rebel archangel in his rebellion against God (Genesis 3; Revelation 12:7-9). The consequences resulted in suffering and death for themselves and the whole human family, “As in Adam we all die, . .” (Romans 5:12).
But God gave them a promise that Someone born into the human family like them, would deliver them from the slavery and bondage in which they had placed themselves, and us! (1 Corinthians 15:22-23). Genesis 3:15 was the initial promise of human redemption. And so I can imagine the wonder and elation Adam and Eve must have experienced when after a successful pregnancy, Cain was born! It was the world’s first human birth. They would have been even more emotional than Fergal Keene over his newborn Daniel. Adam and Eve had never seen such a miracle before! Cain was unique! And I am sure we can appreciate Eve’s feelings when she cries out, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man” (Genesis 4:1)
Little did she realise that this little innocent baby would grow up to become the world’s first murderer (Genesis 4:1-8). One can only guess at how those hopes were dashed and after such wonder at the birth of her children, with what depth she sunk in her grief.
And so our first parents died without seeing the promise, and so was the case for their children and subsequent generations. The promise of a Redeemer was repeated through patriarchs and prophets, yet He did not come!
Coming down to the people of Isaiah’s day they may well have wondered if they had not believed in a false hope. Assyria had conquered the 10 northern tribes of Israel in 722 BC and now surrounded Jerusalem itself with the promise of the same fate! As we read Isaiah 36, we can get a picture of how ominous this fate was that loomed over Jerusalem. Such were the times of Isaiah’s day that even the faithful could not have been blamed for doubting the promise of God!
And so Isaiah, whose name is “The Lord is our help,” in the apparent gloom and despair of his day, renews God’s promise to Israel in Isaiah 9:6:
“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah was affirming God’s promise to Judah that had been handed down to God’s people ever since it had been given to our first parents. It will happen! Isaiah assures.
And as if to reassure the people locked up in the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians, we read in chapters 36 and 37 of Isaiah that the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 of the Assyrian army in one night. Chapter 37:37 says, “Sennacherib broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.”
The promised Deliverer was assured through Isaiah the prophet, “For to us a child is born.” The mighty God would be miraculously and uniquely born into the human family, and forever identify Himself with us. Just like any other child, he would be born to a human mother. But unlike any other child he would be born of the Holy Spirit. He would be unique, both Son of Man and Son of God (Luke 1:35). He would, like any of us be dependent and trusting in a mother’s care and love. He would learn to grow and adjust in the human family, just like any other child of the human race.
He would experience pains and heartache. He would know grief and sorrow, and He would know what it was to shed tears, and even die – die to pay the price of sin for everyone (Romans 6:23). Adam had sold out the human race to Satan, the prince of this world, and the only way God could regain the kingdom, was to become one of us! “For to us a child is born,” for that very reason, as we sing in the carol, “born that man no more may to die,” born to set us free from sin and death (Hebrews 2:14)!
He would be called, “Wonderful Counsellor.” He would get through life without sin, and give us the benefit of His success (Hebrews 2:14-15; 4:14-16). That was the purpose of His coming. Despite the anti-Christian culture developing around us in our Western world, the benefits of Christ’s Counselling is still seen every day in the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit in the changed lives of people today.
But then, Isaiah tells us why this Wonderful Counsellor is able to perform miracles within human hearts. The prophet takes a leap from, “for to us a child is born” to, “The Mighty God“!
It was the kind of leap that doubting Thomas had to make when he uttered that confession, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). That is who the Bible says Jesus is. Colossians 1:16 says he was the First Cause; “For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were made by Him and for Him.” The Apostle John in his Gospel, in chapter 1:3 says, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
And even more amazing is Isaiah’s next declaration that His name is also “Everlasting Father.” Many people would like to make a distinction between Jesus and the Father, because Jesus became a “Son.” As someone has put it, His human birth was His condescension, not His obligation! Reading Vol. I, a discourse on the Person of Christ by Puritan John Owen, a phrase etched itself in my mind not to be forgotten, “He did not give up what He was, but He became what he was not!” Uniquely, God became man, for a unique purpose described by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus could say, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30). He knows the part of both.
Then says Isaiah, He shall be known as the “Prince of Peace.” Matthew records Jesus as saying, “I have not come to send peace but a sword.” But there is no paradox. Peace with God is only through the Cross. It was in the cross that he reconciled us to himself (Colossians 1:19-20). When God promised to create enmity between Satan’s seed and God’s children (Genesis 3:15), Jesus came to make that enmity more real!
It was the Cross that showed us the awfulness of sin in contrast to the love of God. It was on the cross that we see evil for what it is, over against God’s goodness and self-giving. As the Apostle Paul puts in Romans 5:8, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And that cross opened up the reality of a new life in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
At Christ’s birth, the angels had announced, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” But this peace and good will has to be worked at; the forces of evil are still here! We have our own tendency to self-centredness. The world is always with us, whether Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria or the Sudan, or at home in the violence and crime of our own communities. Enmity to God’s kingdom is still here!
But Isaiah’s message reminds us that Christ’s birth was no temporary injection in the arm for ailing humankind. Instead, it is a guarantee of God’s intention for working out a permanent solution for the ills of this sin-ridden world. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life.” There is a life beyond the now for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ was sacrificed to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”
And then will come to pass the Apostle John’s description of the future. In Revelation 21:1 he writes,
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” And then in verse 4 he says, “And He (God) will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
We are assured that sin and rebellion will not repeat itself. The certainty of all our hope in Christ is centred in the historic fact that God became flesh, and dwelt among us. The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ was God carrying out His purpose for reclaiming a lost world.
Said Fergal Keene back in 1996 in his letter to his son, “Amidst the evil of this world my dear son, yours is the cry of hope” As we listen to the local and the world news, history has shown the world hasn’t changed any since Cain killed his brother Abel!
But despite all that is bad that we see taking place in the world, the message of the prophet Isaiah still speaks to us today. God’s intention for this world will be realised. It is worth repeating and remembering, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It’s down to our choice of whose’ side we are on. His first Advent assures us there will be a Second Advent when all is going to be put right (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57).
There is to be no more suffering or death or heartache. God’s new world order will be one where only the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). They are the meek – not the weak. Whatever harm may come to them in this life, they live under the protection of the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace in this life, and forever in the life to come.
It is what the Apostle Paul called the ‘Blessed Hope’ — “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Our joy and peace and hope are in the reality of the promises of God. And that is what Isaiah wanted to tell the people of his day, and it still is as relevant for us in our day: “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.“