N.T. (Tom) Wright has blessed the Christian community with his prodigious speaking schedule and his voluminous library of writings. (See this summary of his teachings.) His reputation and credibility are enhanced by having a career marked by ministry assignments beyond the walls of academia. Most prominently, Wright served as the Anglican Bishop of Durham, 2003-2010. The diocese of Durham is not an enclave of wealth or privilege, but a gritty industrial area with a host of social problems. Wright plunged into this post with energy and hope, always seeking to minister in the name of Christ.
Wright is primarily a Pauline scholar, but has more than bridged the gap between those who study Paul and those who study the Gospels. Paul points to Jesus for Wright, not the other way around as in much of Evangelical theology. We should note, however, that Wright is also a keen student of history and of cultural context for the writings of the Bible.
How would Wright understand the situation in Palestine at the time leading up to the birth of Jesus the Messiah? His writings speak of this from different angles, but the most helpful for me is a set of five questions and answers. As we prepare for our celebration of the birth of our Lord, our Savior Jesus the Christ, let us review how the Jews of Jesus’ day viewed their situation at the time of his birth. How would a common Jew (such as Joseph or Mary) understand their position in the flow of history? Here are Wright’s Q & A’s:
- Who are we?
“We are Israel, the chosen people of the Creator God.”
- Where are we?
“We are in the Holy Land focused on the temple, but paradoxically we are in a sense still in exile, still outsiders in our own land.”
- What is wrong?
“We have the wrong rulers; pagans on the one hand (Romans), compromised or half-breed Jews (the Herodians) on the other. We are all involved in a less than perfect situation.”
- What is the solution?
“Our God must act to give us all the proper sort of rule again, God’s own rule through a priest or a king or both, and in the meanwhile Israel must be faithful to the covenant.”
- What time is it?
“It is the eve of the Day of the Lord, the dramatic deliverance of the God of Israel.”
That last one gives me chills whenever I read it. How often do we ask, “What time is it?” regarding our position in history? If we believe that God is the Lord of history, how is he moving and orchestrating right now?
The prophets of Israel had long held out the promise of the Day of the Lord for the people of God. Zephaniah thundered:
The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
This was the much-anticipated future time when the people of Israel would be rescued from their foreign oppressors and restored to a preeminent position among the nations of the earth. It was a day when the wicked would no longer prosper and the righteous would no longer suffer. It was a day when the faithful would be rewarded for their generational waiting for the Lord to act on their behalf. It was the ultimate eschatological point in the future.
Do we consider the advent of the Messiah to be the Day of the Lord? No, it is not that simple. We live in a world that gives evidence to a great amount of unfinished business for God. Wickedness goes unpunished. The poor are forgotten or crushed. The people of God worry more about their prosperity than their service.
Yet then, as now, there is a great cause for hope. The advent of the Messiah was God’s bullhorn message, “I have not forgotten you! I keep my promises! I want you as my people! My Son is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” This message still rings today. Christmas is our yearly reminder of God’s love for us, God’s plan for us, and God’s reign over us.
Prayer: Lord, this week, may I pause frequently to remember your providence and plan for me as part of your people. Thank you for Christmas and what it means to your world. May we cut through Christmas clutter to remember you and honor you this week. In the Savior’s name we pray, AMEN.
Views expressed are those of the author, not his employer