The Message of Advent
This Advent season I have been preaching on how God gives us advance notice of what he plans to do and that the promises made to those before us are not only for them but for those who believe today as well – the promise of a deliverer, the promise of blessings through Abraham, the promise of an eternal kingdom and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Theologians have seen in the curses spoken to the serpent, and the woman and man in Genesis 3:15, the “protoevangelium” or the first mention or announcement of the gospel – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” In Christian interpretation this meant that a son of the woman would someday crush the power of the enemy even while being bruised. Or as 1 John 3:8 puts it: “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” One of the first to develop this interpretation was the church father Irenaeus, in his work “Against Heresies” – “Christ has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam, and trampled upon his head…For it was by means of a woman that he got the advantage over man at first, setting himself up as man’s opponent. And therefore does the Lord profess Himself to be the Son of man, comprising in Himself that original man out of whom the woman was fashioned, in order that , as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm of victory against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death.” The mission of Jesus was to free all of God’s creation from slavery to sin, evil and death – those who trust in him find he still does set free!
Galatians 3:8 is even more striking, employing one word in Greek to tell us that the gospel, the good news has been announced before the birth of Jesus in this case in the life of Abraham in Genesis 12 – “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’ The promise to Abraham to be a blessing to the clans of the earth is viewed by Paul as God proclaiming the gospel ahead of time since the same faith that justified the patriarch is the same faith that will justify the nations.
The promise of God to King David of a son who would rule an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7) refers to more than Solomon. The angel Gabriel announced that Jesus would “be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus, the son of Mary and son of Eve, descendant of Abraham and David makes God’s reign a present reality in his birth, life and death as well as a future completion in his coming again. It is a kingdom now present as well as the future inheritance for all who believe (Romans 14:17; Hebrews 12:28).
The Holy Spirit is a key but often overlooked actor in the advent of God’s son in the opening chapters of the gospel of Luke – the Spirit brings miraculous life to the barren, to the womb of the virgin, and fills the mouths of men and women with praise and prophetic declarations (1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:26 & 27). This is a foretaste of the Holy Spirit’s coming in power on all who believe in the book of Acts. We see the promise and gift of the Spirit found in Isaiah 59:21 made real for all who believe: “And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children’s children, says the LORD, from now on and forever.”
These promises fulfilled in Christ demonstrate God’s grace and faithfulness through the ages but like all God’s gifts they can be ignored, neglected or rejected by those within and without the church. There is nothing really new about that! However, that does not nullify the promises God has made. Until the end of the age there is no expiration date on them! They last longer than the trinkets of the season and will endure beyond the hardiest fruitcake!