As we approach December the world has gotten darker and darker. There is less daylight each day and more darkness, and the sky has turned a dull gray. When I was in college, I used to go hiking and camping a lot in North Georgia in the mountains north of Ellijay. The trail head was about a 30 minute drive up a mountain off a gravel road. From the trail head it was about 5 miles to where I camped, which was a small spot of level ground just off the Conasauga River. In the Spring and Summer, it was really nice, because the river level was higher and there was a lot of wildlife. I would wash my face each morning and shave in the river. But, most importantly, the nights were short. I slept in a hammock suspended between two trees, and it was easy in the Spring and Summer, because the air was warm and the nights were not long.
But, in the Fall and Winter, it was much more difficult. I would build a fire and huddle around it, and sometimes I would even light a can of sterno and huddle around it to stay warm. During the night, it was hard to sleep because it was so cold and dark. I can remember waking up early in the mornings before the sun was to rise, standing on the river bank facing east, looking at my watch, waiting for the sun to rise and for its light to finally make it down through the trees to where I was. I knew that once the sun came, I would start to get warm, and so for hours I would stand at the bank, pacing and looking at my watch, and waiting for the light of the sun to shine on me.
I imagine that the people of the Old Testament had a similar feeling of anticipation as they awaited the coming of the savior. For they waited a long time, many generations, for the promised savior to come. In Genesis 3:15, God first promised a savior who would come to crush the head of the serpent, Satan, and defeat sin and death. This seed of a woman, this Son of man, would come to save his people from their sins. He would crush Satan and his servants of sin and death.
God made this promise to Adam and Eve. And they looked forward to its fulfillment. And this promise was carried through their son Seth through to Noah, and then through Noah’s sons. And then generations later, God would choose Abram of Ur of the Chaldees, in what is now southern Iraq. Abram came from a family of idol worshippers and was likely an idol worshipper himself. But, God picked him as the one through whom his promise of the coming savior, this “seed of a woman,” would continue, and Abram had faith in God’s promise. So God renamed him “Abraham” or “Father of many nations,” for all who have faith in this promised savior are descendants of Abraham by faith.
So, this promise of a coming savior, the Messiah or Christ, was carried through Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob. And then it continued through Jacob’s descendants, the twelve tribes of Israel. These people were gathered around the promise of the coming Messiah (the Christ), the seed of a woman, and called on the name of the Lord. They were the Church. Christ hadn’t come yet, but they looked to him in faith.
So, the faithful people of the Church Israel continued to look for his coming. And God continued to send prophets to His people to remind them of His promise. The prophets recorded these promises throughout the Old Testament. Through thousands of years of human history, God was acting in history, assuring His people that sin, death, and the devil would not last forever, for the seed of the woman was coming into history to destroy these enemies. But, Christ hadn’t come yet.
So, imagine being one of these people in the Church before Christ’s first Advent. You live in a world of darkness, where the light of Christ has not yet dawned. You have a promise of the Lord, but it has not yet been fulfilled. So, you look for its fulfillment; you look for the coming of Christ.
And so like a camper on the shores of a river in the long night of winter, you stand and face the east, looking for the rising of the light of Christ. You long and hope for the dark night to be over and the light to finally shine on you. You look for the fulfillment of all the prophecies that the Lord has given. You look for the miracle of the virgin birth that the Lord foretold long ago when He said, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). And then, in the fullness of time, he comes, and the promise of God is realized, and the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:2,6).
The seed of the woman, the one born of a woman and yet who is God, has arrived. A child is born and a son is given, this is the promised Messiah or Christ, who has now come. He is born of a humble virgin and yet he is God; he is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
His arrival is announced by angels to shepherds in the fields at night. The Good Shepherd is first announced to humble shepherds. The angels proclaimed the coming of this savior: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV)
The Savior has come, and he has come to make peace between humanity and God. He has come to restore sinful, rebellious humanity to the holy, Almighty Lord. He has come to end the war, to make peace.
This savior is Jesus Christ. He is both true God and true man, 100% each, inseparable, and yet having both natures united in himself. He is the seed of the woman, yet conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was there in the beginning, as the Word of God through whom all things were created, and yet now he has come in the flesh, having been born to the virgin Mary.
The Lord didn’t ask that we ascend up to Him in the heavens. He didn’t demand that we try to climb up to Him. No, instead, out of His great grace and mercy, He came down to us. He came to shed the light of His truth on all people. He came to gather all nations to himself. He came as the one through whom all things were created to restore fallen creation to himself – this Jesus Christ, this Word in the flesh, this Immanuel, “God with us.” He is the image of the invisible God, begotten of the Father, God in the flesh.
It was for us and for our salvation that he came down from heaven and was made incarnate. It was for us that God became flesh and dwelt among us. God acts for us, and came to save us from our sins.
This is the Christmas miracle, this is the reason for the season. Jesus Christ came with all the authority of God, because he is God, and he came to shed the light of his truth on his creation and restore it. And He came in the flesh: He is God with us, Emmanuel. This was his first Advent, when he was born of the Virgin Mary as a humble baby.
And Jesus Christ is still with us now, in the present Advent where he dwells with us in the Church through Word and Sacrament. He is still “Immanuel” – God with us. And when the final Advent comes when he returns in the flesh, he will be with us in person again on that Last Day when He returns for us.
We look forward to that day when all things will be complete and this present, fallen creation will be restored to perfection and we will dwell in the full light of the Lord forever. And so like campers on a river bank and like the faithful saints of old, we too stand and watch for our savior’s final Advent. Amen.
(Image “A powerful light shining in the dark” by Zouavman Le Zouave (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)