People of the Promise
Genesis 3:1-24; Luke 1:68-79
Advent Midweek 1
December 2, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
We often hear that the Bible is the most widely read book in the history of the world, yet most of us know that the Bible isn’t really one single book. It’s actually a collection of historical narratives, letters, poetry, and prophecy. These 66 documents were written in 3 different languages by about 40 different authors over the span of about 1500 years. Yet despite all this variety, when you walk into the Christian bookstore today you will find these documents bound together in a single volume with a single title: the Bible. What is it that unites these documents? What is the thread that ties them all together? In many ways, that thread is the promise of reconciliation.
The book of Genesis tells us of our beginnings. Yes, it spends some time on creation, maybe not as much as we might like in our age of idolizing scientific data. No, Genesis is not nearly as concerned with describing the “how” of creation as it is with relaying to us the history of the Fall and its consequences. At its birth, creation was a place where God and humanity lived together in harmony. But as we heard a few moments ago, our first parents broke that relationship. Their sin, the very sin which we still live in and perpetuate today, has made us enemies of God.
But our Lord immediately put into motion his plan of reconciliation, a plan that started with a promise. He promised the seed of woman, an offspring to be his Messiah, the one to restore what was broken. He spelled out what would happen as a result of their sin, that now the ground would no longer yield food willingly, but Adam and Eve and all their descendants down to this very day would have to struggle to survive. He warned Eve of the pain she and her daughters would now feel in childbirth, a particularly poignant curse, because motherhood is one of the most fundamental elements to womanhood, but now it would bring as much pain as joy. And the Lord barred them from the tree of life so that they did not continue to eat regularly from the tree and remain in their suffering for until he came again.
The rest of the Old Testament is bound together as the story of how our Lord kept that promise alive among his people, how he helped them through the struggle of this life, and how he worked to bring fulfillment to that promise. We hear of God’s further promises to Noah and Abraham, to Moses and the Israelites as he delivers them into the Promised Land. We hear of how our Lord started to establish reconciliation with the world through the people of Israel. The priests of Israel were called to regularly pray for the sins of the world. The people of Israel were called to overcome the curse of the Fall by bearing one another’s burdens, both spiritually and financially. They were called to provide for the sick and poor, for the widows and orphans. They were called to forgive any grudges they might hold against one another. They were called to be reconciled to God and to each other.
And yet, as we continue to read the Old Testament, we hear of how the people of God turned their back on his promise time and time again, choosing instead to indulge the things of this dying world. We hear from the prophets how the Israelites failed to provide for the needy in their midst, choosing instead to stuff their bellies and drink too much wine. We hear how the people of God chased after false gods like a teenage boy away at college for the first time chases after anything with a skirt and a pulse. Yet through it all, our Lord remained faithful to the word he spoke in the garden. There may have been consequences for the Israelites from time to time, droughts and famines and captivities. But reading the prophets shows us that these consequences indicate that our Lord had not given up on his people. After all, you only discipline those you love. If you care nothing for someone, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to their actions. It’s when you love someone that you are moved to intercede in their lives and attempt to change their bad decisions. Through the entire history of Israel, the good and the bad, our Lord worked for reconciliation.
Until one day he announced that reconciliation was at hand. He told the priest Zechariah that the time had come for the prophet who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and that prophet would be Zechariah’s own son John. When John was born, his father broke out in the song we just heard. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. He has remembered his covenant that he promised to Abraham, and the time has come for him to act in mercy toward his people. And my son will be blessed because he will bring knowledge of this salvation to all people, because of the tender mercy of God.” Zechariah rejoices in the reconciliation that God is bringing about, rejoices that the Father in Heaven is acting on his promise to reunite God and man.
And so the Messiah was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth and was crucified, died, and buried outside Jerusalem. And he lives. And God and man are reconciled through him, for he is both God and man. And as the Apostle Paul says, our Lord has now given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Yet another promise, a promise similar to the one given to our first parents in the Garden long ago. This time the promise is not for a seed to crush the serpent’s head, but a promise of a new heaven and a new earth. A promise of a new creation free from sin and sickness and death and tragedy. A creation where God and humanity are truly and fully reconciled once again. This is the promise we cling to. This is the hope for which we wait.
This is the reconciliation we celebrate throughout the year. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of the Messiah. We celebrate that God became man so that humanity and God might be reconciled. At Easter we celebrate the sacrifice that brought about the reconciliation. The rest of the year we celebrate what it means to live in this reconciliation. We celebrate with Zechariah the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and his descendants. And like Zechariah, we look forward to the fulfillment of God’s next promise, the one that will see us delivered from this valley of tears on to the height of the holy mountain of the Lord, the one on which they will neither hurt nor destroy.
And we wait. Like the people of God waited for him to fulfill his Garden promise, we wait. Like the Israelites waited for God to raise up a horn of salvation from the house of his servant David, we wait. Like the Israelites looked forward to that day when they might serve God without fear, we wait. We wait for the time when we will be delivered from the fear of our enemies so that we might serve our Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for all eternity. We are people of the Promise, awaiting the day of its fulfillment.
And while we wait, we live in the ministry of reconciliation that has been given to us. We repent of our sin, we repent of the brokenness between God and man, we confess that we are to blame, that we have broken it. We repent of our sin and rejoice in the gift of reconciliation that Jesus won for us. We live reconciled to God through the words of his forgiveness spoken by a man who stands in the stead of and speaks by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. We live reconciled through the gifts of bread and wine, which are the body and blood of our Lord himself for the strengthening of our faith. We live reconciled to one another, not holding each other’s sins against one another, but living in the joy of forgiveness, building one another up in love. We live reconciled to our community, providing a school as a ministry to the world around us, not just for what we might get out of it, but for what we can give through it. We live in the Promise of God and share that Promise with the people around us.
The books of the Bible are bound together by the Promise of Reconciliation and the story of its fulfillment. We are part of that story. We are people of the promise: the promise that our Lord made in the garden all those years ago, the promise which he sustained throughout the days of the Old Testament, the promise that he fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of the Savior who was born as a baby in Bethlehem, the promise that through baptizing and teaching he is with us always to the end of the age, and the promise that he will come again to claim us as his own and to take us to be with him in paradise for all eternity. And so, as People of the Promise we pray:
Come, Jesus, come, Messiah Lord,
Lost Paradise restore;
Lead past the angel’s flaming sword—
Come open heaven’s door. (LSB 342 st. 4)