Thanksgiving is now behind us, which means my Instagram has been flooded with tree decorating photos.[1. Seriously guys, do y’all not realize that it’s not December 14th yet?] As a family, we’re not there yet. We’ve got a few weeks before the hardcore Christmas-ing happens in our apartment. But we are getting ready to prepare our hearts with Advent readings.
Last year, we read The Expected One by my friend Scott James together around the dinner table, and we loved the experience, so much so that we’ll undoubtedly do it again. I’m also likely to revisit Russ Ramsey’s wonderful Behold the Lamb of Godas it was such a blessing last time around.
As for new books, Hudson adores The Littlest Watchman so we’ll be reading that repeatedly over the next… oh, two or three months, no doubt. Desiring God’s Good News of Great Joy devotional may make it into the rotation. And one final book I’m adding to the list is actually one about one of my favorite stories, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Mr Dickens and His Christmas Carol by Samantha Silva is an interesting take on the classic tale that places Dickens in a Scrooge-esque role. I don’t normally for this kind of novel, so hopefully it’s an enjoyable companion on my commute in December.
Do you have any must-read books for the Christmas season? Share them with me on Twitter or Facebook!
Today marks the first day of Advent. Over the last few years, our family has tried to develop traditions around the season to help us focus on Christ in the days leading up to Christmas. And I’ll be honest, it’s been tough. We’ve got a number of books that we dig, but they’ve been tough to read with the kids (due to attention spans). There’s a story or two that we’re looking at introducing but need to make sure we don’t traumatize them.
Nothing’s really stuck so far, but this year is going to be different.
And if not, I’m not going to get anxious about it.
After all, that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Instead, here’s what I’m going to try to do:
This year—tonight in fact—we’re going to start Peace by Steven J. Nichols, which Ligonier and Reformation Trust released a couple of years ago. It offers several readings for the Advent seasons, as well as hymns, carols, and readings from theologians throughout history. This one is primarily going to be for Emily and me to enjoy, though we hope the kids will take part.
For them, though, I’m looking at The Expected One, an Advent devotional written by Scott James. This one was really written with families in mind and its short daily readings focus on the many promises of Christ throughout the Scriptures.
Finally, I’m including Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God as part of my personal reading. I’ve not yet had an opportunity to read this book, but everyone I know who has read it has loved it.
This last one is the one I’m absolutely certain will be a success, as long as success is defined as, “It’s going to be read.” The other two, well, we’re going to try it. We’re going to encourage sitting and discussing for short periods of time. But we’re going to do our best to make it a joy, not a burden. And if it doesn’t work out the way we plan this year, we’ll try again next.
After all, Advent is about anticipation, not anxiety.
So where the promise begin? Where do we see the first glimpse into God’s plan for restoration?
The very moment sin entered the world.
When God created the world, He called it “very good”—it was a world without sin, without suffering or sorrow. Everyone and everything lived in perfect harmony. But, the crafty serpent—the one John identifies as Satan himself in Revelation 12:9—came and tempted the first woman with a promise:
To be like God.
He questioned God’s command, placing doubt into the mid of Eve—and Adam who was right there with her.
So the two ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and “their eyes were opened.” And when God saw what they had done, and confronted them, God cursed them all. He curses the woman to pain in childbirth and enmity between her and her husband. He curses the man to fruitless toil, instead of fruitful labor.
But notice, even as He curses the serpent, God makes a promise:
The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)
And here we have it: the first glimpse into the promise.
One day the offspring of the woman would come. He would be injured—his heel would be bruised by the serpent—but he would crush the serpent.
That’s the promise: this mess that was made would be undone by the death of the serpent—and his death would come at the hands of this Promised One.
And the good news is this hazy first glimpse into the promise is just the beginning. Over time, the Lord would make the identity of the Offspring clear… beginning with a promise to a pagan man, Abram (later Abraham), from whom He promised to make a great nation, and to whose offspring he would give the land of Abram’s sojourning (Genesis 12:1-7; 13:15; 17:18).
And as we continue to read through the Old Testament, the promise becomes more and more clear. The promise was repeated to Isaac, and then again to Isaac’s son Jacob, and then once again to Jacob’s son Judah. And from Judah’s family, we meet another man, a man named Boaz, who would redeem a Moabite woman named Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. And Boaz and Ruth would have a son, named Obed, who would have a son named Jesse… and he would have a son named David.
And to David, God made another promise, saying He would “will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. …the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16).
David, the man after God’s own heart, God’s “prince over [his] people Israel,” was a man. He would die, and his son would take the throne after him. He would build a house for the Lord, and his kingdom would be established forever. But this promise, though it referred to Solomon in part, wasn’t about Solomon. Instead, it was Someone who would come after. And as Israel abandoned the Lord, God continually prevented their outright destruction for the sake of his eternal covenant with David. And as he would send prophet after prophet, he continued to speak this promise:
The offspring of David, the “stump” and “branch” of Jesse, would come. And we would know Him because of a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
And of this child, it was said that, “the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousnes from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
So who is this one whom God promised to send?
One upon whose shoulders the government would stand. One whose government and increase would never end. Whose throne and kingdom would be established forever.
And in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the child who would be born of a virgin, God did come. And his government has been established. There will be no end of His rule. He will reign with justice and righteousness forevermore.
This is the good news we celebrate at Christmas, the greatest Christmas gift of all: the coming of the Lord.
God fulfilled His promise. And if God fulfilled this one—one that literally changed the entire world—will He not do the same with those yet to be fulfilled?
For the Christian, Christmas isn’t just about celebrating the birth of Jesus, nor is it only celebrating the fulfillment of a promise made long ago. It’s a reminder that God will fulfill every promise He has made to His people—that the good work He has begun in us will be brought to completion, that He will indeed make all things new, and that all who believe will stand before Him forever, without fear of judgment.