Today's Old Testament reading in Isaiah contains one of the most familiar and beloved prophecies of the coming Messiah. "For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace" (Is 9.6 CSB).
As expected, the Fathers wrote extensively on this passage. One thing that surprised me as I read this morning, however, was that numerous early theologians homed in on the phrase "will be on his shoulders" as a clear prophecy of the cross. This understanding began with Justin Martyr, in the first century, only a few decades after the crucifixion, and is consistent theme in these early writers. Caesarius of Arles has a typical understanding and writes, "When Isaac himself carried the wood for the sacrifice of himself, in this, too, he prefigured Christ our Lord, who carried his own cross to the place of his passion. Of this mystery much had already been foretold by the prophets: 'And his government shall be upon his shoulders.' Christ, then, had the government upon his shoulders when he carried his cross with wonderful humility. Not unfittingly does Christ’s cross signify government: by it the devil is conquered and the whole world recalled to the knowledge and grace of Christ" (Caesarius of Arles, Sermons).
Another aspect of this prophecy precedes and follows verse six--the element of unending peace seen in the destruction of war materiel (verse 5), the title "Prince of Peace" (in verse 6), and the explicit mention of never-ending peace (verse 7). For this blessed peace we still wait. We wait in a world still wracked by seemingly unending warfare and bloodshed. We wait in a world still characterized by injustice and unrighteousness. We wait in world still marred by sin and death.
And so, as ones still longing for the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, we sing with expectant and hopeful hearts, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!"