By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful. (Isaiah 9:1.5-6)
We read this splendid passage from the Book of Isaiah during the Advent season each year, and if you’re like me, you will find in it a very real experience of the majesty and awesome dignity of the One whose birth the Prophet Isaiah had predicted hundreds of years earlier. The titles that Isaiah uses to describe the future Messiah are unusual and can be translated in several different ways from the original Hebrew, but they are magnificent beyond imagining. They remain fixed in our minds because they describe Jesus in a way that we are not accustomed to hearing in regular sermons and writings. Above all, He is described as the “Wonder-Counselor,” a title that has come down to us in the Christian devotional tradition as the “Angel of Great Counsel.”
Now just what are we to make of this lovely but mysterious title? First, let me explain a little bit of the Hebrew background of the terms, and then we will see if we can apply it to our lives. The term “Angel” applied to Jesus does not mean that He was an angel. He is the immortal God, pure and simple, and angels are creatures. As the Letter to the Hebrews states, Jesus is “as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs,” (Heb 1:4) and that New Testament witness should tell us that any other comparison of Jesus to angels is just an analogy that we use to spice up our understanding of His role as Savior. You see, in Hebrew the term “angel” simply means “messenger,” and when applied to Jesus it means that He is the first and most important Messenger of God, much the way that a Prime Minister of a nation is the first and most important minister of government. Jesus is the one holy Messenger who came from heaven to reveal God to us in His fullness. Without Him there would be no light, truth, or salvation.
“Counsel” may be a term we are more familiar with if we have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Six out of the seven names for the gifts of the Holy Spirit come from chapter 11 of Isaiah, and “counsel” is one of them. It is commonly mistaken for the word “council” which means a gathering of minds. Yet, “counsel” means more than the ability to consult with a group to get advice. It is an active concept and denotes the ability to guide people to a full understanding of the Truth. Perhaps you remember in the Gospel of John where Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, the “Counselor,” and promises that the Holy Spirit would “guide [them] into all truth.” (Jn 16:13) That is “counsel” in the best sense, and we have lesser human versions of that role in the many guidance counselors, coaches, therapists, and spiritual directors that exist for our wellbeing. Jesus is called the Messenger of the “Great Counsel” which means that He (through His Holy Spirit) is the One who is uniquely capable of guiding every soul in history to heaven, without limit of time, place, energy, language, or capacity.
I can honestly say that I have met a handful of uniquely gifted individuals in my life that I would put into the category of “genius.” There are others I worked with in my career who were supremely talented in one field or another and upon whose talent and intelligence I would stake my life. Yet, not one of them would I trust to give me “great counsel” in its fullest sense. It is not possible for a mere human being, no matter how gifted, to know the whole of human history or to be able to manage all the intricacies of human nature. Only Jesus is Lord of it all. He is the “Angel of Great Counsel” who is in charge of every aspect of the Father’s creation and the One who can give us the “great counsel” of how to save our souls. To Him we owe our total allegiance.
At this point we simply have to ask ourselves whether or not we are open to this supreme Messenger. Can we say that we listen to Him, seek His counsel, and make His Will our first priority? Do we see Him as the unlimited Lord of our lives and commit our lives to Him daily? Have we learned to trust Him unreservedly in all things? That is a constant challenge of our journey through life, but the travelling is made easier knowing that we have an Angel who loves us without limits and has won the right to be our Guide to heaven.
All holy “Angel of Great Counsel,” You have come to be our Lord and guide. Lead us through the trials and tribulations of this life to the joys of heaven. Help us to know what it is You wish of us in each circumstance of our lives and make us instruments in the salvation of other souls for the greater honor and glory of God. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]