Have you read part 1 already?
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust. -Bono, U2, Where the Streets Have No Name
Jesus. He was much more than a guy who showed up and lived a life that elicited adoration and moral followers. He wasn’t a philosopher, a religious leader, a writer, a political leader, a political revolutionary, or a prophet. The account of the New Testament writers, Jesus early followers, and my own personal faith is that Jesus was uniquely God, a part of a mind-boggling triune (3 parts making one) God who is the sole creator, sustainer and ruler of the whole world.
Christmas is (at least for many Christians) the celebration of the entry of God in our world in a distinct, unique, and amazing way. And while it feels like a beginning of a story, it is more accurately the simultaneous culmination of a centuries old story, and the extension of that story into a new and unanticipated direction.
So, to appreciate the significance of baby Jesus in a manger, I want to look at a sweeping theme within the centuries old story (more appropriately prophecy) that had been unfolding over the course of Israel’s history. I hope in this post to appreciate Jesus as the fulfillment of this long-awaited hope of a people who God had uniquely sought out to reveal himself to and through.
Thinking back over the history of Israel we begin with a man, Abram, who God invites into a relationship. God tells Abram, (later he names him Abraham = “father of a multitude”):
Genesis 12: 1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him..
Abraham becomes the father of a nation of people (Israel). He was called to leave a land, and given a grand, albeit distant promise of greatness and blessing. From this point on God’s interaction with this chosen man and chosen nation becomes a story of going away and coming back; of exile and slavery, and eventual return. Let me give you a few examples:
- Right after this great promise from God, Abram flees to Egypt to escape a famine, and gets stuck there for a while.
- Later Jacob (Abraham’s grandson) flees to the east to escape his angry brother, whose inheritance he swindled. He eventually returns home to deal with his brother and wrestles with God on the Journey.
- Joseph, the son of Jacob, is hated by his brothers who cause him to be sold into slavery in Egypt. Stuck there, God blesses Joseph and through many trials he eventually becomes great within Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and their families eventually meet up with their long-lost brother in Egypt as they flee a famine in their homeland. Eventually this family and blossoming nation of people lose their favored status and become enslaved by the grater Egyptian nation. But what of God’s promise?
- Enter Moses, through whom God renews his promise and uses leads Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt (again).
- After a generation of nomadic travels through the desert they make it to their promised home (sortof). Generations of struggle for their promised homeland continue and eventually through the chaos of this time the people form a stronger government through kings.
- Which brings us to the celebrated King David, and a hopeful turning point for the fledgling nation. David’s kingdom is united, strong, and seemingly secure. Even this “man after God’s own heart” ends his reign in moral failure and exile. He flees a usurper son, Absalom, eventually returning after regaining control.
- A couple of generations later his nation is divided and a couple hundred years later their stronger neighbor (Assyria) devastates one part of the divided country (Israel) and forcibly evicts the populace.
- Not long afterward the remaining part of the nation (Judah) is conquered by the mighty Babylon. It is surrounding this hopeless setting that many of the Old Testament prophets speak to the people God’s purposes and plans. There’s hopelessness but yet a light, for their God has shown himself capable of getting them out of situations like this before. The prohecies seem to point to a future hope, a new king, like David, who can right things for them again.
- Then after 70 years Babylon falls to Persia, and the Jews are sent home again.
Exile and return, slavery and freedom, running away and coming back home…the early Jewish narrative is one of constant uprooting and return, and of promised prosperity and inheritance which are invariably postponed. Over the centuries following the Jewish people’s return again from Babylonian captivity the word from the Lord spoken through the prophets confirmed God’s promise of blessing and future glory. These promises more and more seemed to be wrapped up in a future figure: a King similar to David but greater than any before. Some how God would usher in a radically new era of peace and prosperity under the reign of this King. The change would be so dramatic that even the natural order would experience a new harmony as lion would lay down with lamb.
Into this culture– fully anticipating a king who would right all that was so wrong– a heavenly messenger appears to a young virgin named Mary. He tells her:
“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
What Mary must have wondered about her son’s future I can only imagine. But I can infer that the incarnation of God…the decicive, implausible, and awe-inspireing fact that God had entered his creation like a painter inhabiting his own canvass…that this–inspite of all the expectations of his time– was unexpected. And how beautifully so.