RADIO STATIONS have been counting down the number of days until Christmas. We are reminded daily how many shopping days are left.

Some of us still won't get the point. We are stuck trying to get all of our purchases in under the wire, and heaven alone knows where the time will come to get everything properly wrapped. Anticipation of Christmas can be good or bad.

The Old Testament prophets kept the Israelites in a state of anticipation of the first Christmas. One long-anticipated promise was exquisitely articulated:

"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 Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

The prophet Isaiah was anticipating the greatest of gifts by about 650 years. The Israelites looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The world of the Romans bore witness to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Human history is dated and catalogued by reference to the birth of Jesus. The glories of music and art have exploded by virtue of the inspiration of Christmas. Families and communities share annual festivity in the glow of Christmas light.

And the overflow! All of the lights, presents, concerts and fairs, festal throngs - even the tips - are the happy and joyful overflow, whether directly or indirectly, of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Consider the nature of God's gift to our world. Just look at how the Christ-child is described and then try to be a grinch.

He will be called Wonderful Counselor. Does anyone disagree with the notion that our world needs proper direction? The election of a new president will not suffice. Nor can academia or "the market" offer adequate guidance.

He will be known as Mighty God. Men who claim to be God are considered to be insane. Men treated as if they are God almost always prove to be mass-murderers. But as C.S. Lewis observed, Jesus was a liar or lunatic if He wasn't God.

He was a liar if he claimed to be God and knew he wasn't. He was a lunatic if he thought he was God but wasn't. He was and is the Lord if He is who He said He was. We can't merely say that He was a great teacher. That option is not on the table.

He will be addressed as Everlasting Father. The Israelites were given that opportunity, yet they considered such an address of God as blasphemous. Yet Jesus has instructed His followers to pray accordingly: "Our Father . . . "

The word "our" used by Jesus carries a degree of intimacy that defies even most religious discourse. It is comparable to a child addressing her father as "Daddy" or "Papa." Such is our privilege by way of the Messiah.

He will be recognized as the Prince of Peace. It will not be peace as defined by a negative; that is, the peace He will give is not merely the absence of armed conflict. It is much more vigorous and proactive than that.

Peace will fill our hearts and minds. The peace of Christ will reign over all the earth. It will bring forth reconciliation and harmony. It will be a positive, not just a negative, commodity. And only Christ can offer this kind of peace.

Anticipation is gleeful, as every child knows. It carries a degree of frustration, as fans of the 2008 World Champion Phillies know.

And Christians know the ultimate fruition of an anticipation that has marinated in a depth of desire and desperation over centuries. For "unto us this day is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Merry Christmas! *

The Rev. Bradley E. Lacey is pastor of First Baptist Church of Conshohocken.