The advent of Christmas is never something I have really gotten into. Yes, I have counted down the days to Christmas - but mostly just with a paper chain. When I was younger I did also have one of those calendars with the chocolate inside, but if we are honest, I cheated. . .I ate more than one chocolate per day. In recent years however, I have been hearing more people talking about advent books and studies. This year I was out on Black Friday and I saw a book at LifeWay for just $5. It is Louie Giglio's Waiting Here for You: An Advent Journey of Hope. So, I decided to give it a go. Thus far, I have absolutely loved the simple challenges everyday.
Also in the last 22 months, I have been studying through my Bible. Using an ESV - Read Through the Bible in 1 year plan (clearly I am a bit slow) I have been working my way deliberately, and methodically through the Old Testament. With several months (I assume) yet to go in my reading of the OT, I have been challenged this Christmas season to think much differently about it. Two poignant concepts that I have recently become enamored with are:
1. God's provision of hope for mankind
2. God's sovereignty over all things
Currently in Jeremiah, I am understanding and seeing Christmas differently than I have in the past because of these two themes. The beauty of it just highlighting God's character. His righteousness motivates His justice toward us while His steadfast love motivates His grace toward us. Both demonstrate His everlasting desire to be in relationship with us; His faithfulness.
HOPE &. . .
God provides us with hope even when we do not realize we need it. And He has designed our lives to run according to our own choices. His purpose and will are so expansive! His heart gives room to justice but also puts forth grace. God gives us choices not chances. This is evidenced throughout Scripture when God places before us conditions (e.g. repent and I will bless you, ignore Me and I will punish you). Jeremiah is full of such conditions.
Judah is coming closer and closer to its downfall here. Soon it will be as its sister, Israel - captive, exiled, and defeated. BUT GOD still provides choices! "Repent and I will turn from disaster, but if you do not repent and continue in you evil I will relent from doing good to you" (see Jeremiah 18:7-10). It is as easy as that. These choices are clear and certain. Whatever man chooses will not surprise God, nor will it throw Him off course. God provides choices, each with a certain outcome promised but He lets man decide. This is sovereign control. God knows what we will choose yet He allows us to act freely on it knowing what will happen if we choose either.
Mapped out, I think it would look something like this:
This eventually would be a huge and confusing chart, I would think. But part of sovereignty (as I am growing to understand) is allowing the choice. . .that is why the map is not this:
Sovereignty is both gracious (choices) and just (outcomes). God provides both and our choice does not force Him into unexpected action. He knows! He is not a fatalist, nor is He unprepared.
GOD IS ALWAYS LOOKING FORWARD!
So He offers hope. Even when we can only see the temporal pleasures of our shortcomings. God sees farther.
He knows we are hopeless - even when we do not.
He knows we will be hopeless - even when we do not.
He knows we need hope - even when we do not.
So He gives it to us! In our desperation we then become forward lookers also. We cling to that promise of hope and we swear to never turn away again.
. . .SOVEREIGNTY
Let me now connect this more to Christmas. But to do so, please go back with me to Genesis.
- Genesis - choice made resulted in the fall and the curse.
- Genesis - choices made resulted in an exile in Egypt.
- Exodus - choices made resulted in deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
- Exodus - choices made resulted in 40 years of wilderness wanderings.
- Exodus-Deuteronomy - choices made resulted in punishments, and rewards ultimately capping off with the nearing of the Canaan (finalized in Joshua when they are victorious in occupying the Promised Land).
- Judges - choices made result in cycles of justice and grace.
- Samuel - choices made resulted in kings.
- The prophets - choices made resulted in cycles of justice and grace.*
*but near the "end" the choices resulted in destroyed kingdoms, captive people, exile in Babylon, captivity to various foreigners, and 400 years of silence!
BUT THERE IS HOPE AND THIS IS CHRISTMAS!
Jesus the Messiah is promised. I cannot even imagine what it was then like to cling to that hope of a Messiah for well over 400 years. That time in Bethlehem must have been simply incredible! While the New Testament shows us the misunderstandings, confusions, and even disbelief, just imagine the JOY mixed with anxiety and anticipation; they finally had what they were waiting for.
The OT happened approximately 4,000 years prior to the NT (from start to start) and it "ended" with a torturous and painful sense of abandonment and hopelessness in the silence of God. BUT GOD brought the hope - Jesus the Messiah - and kicked off the NT.
2,000 years later, we wait for the culmination with a hope of the Messiah's return. I only wonder now if our anticipation even compares with that of Israel? Do we truly anticipate it as they did? If not, can we grow to that? I certainly hope so! Look forward with me to the hope of the coming King as we celebrate His first coming this week.