Advent Week 4 and Christmas Morning: The King of Christmas, Genesis 49:10

Who is the King of Christmas? Many Americans would vote for Santa Claus. He embodies godlike qualities we might like to see in a king ruling over us. He knows who is naughty and who is nice (omniscience?). He creates billions of presents for all the children of the earth (omnipotence?). As a jolly old elf, he loves all people (omnibenevolence?). And he manages the physically impossible task of visiting every household on earth in a tight window of 24 hours or so (omnipresence?). His gifting seems to exemplify justice (concern for poor children), mercy (overlooking a few moral boo-boos), and humility (no self-praising tweets about his accomplishments).

Santa seems a much better King of Christmas than such pretenders such as Rudolf (abnormal nasal appearance), Frosty (undependable, melting presence), or Tiny Tim (too young). Problem: the Santa Claus we culturally celebrate is a fictional character, not a real person.

In Genesis, a picture of the future Messiah, the needed Savior of humankind, emerges for us. As the author of Hebrews might say, the messianic picture is in little bits and pieces, and we understand the hints of Genesis far better in hindsight than the ancients did in foresight.

One of these is the prediction that the future Messiah would be a king, a royal person. The narrative focus in Genesis is on various patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, Esau, Jacob, Joseph, etc. These were family chiefs, but were not kings. Yet at the end of Genesis, the glimmer of a king emerges. Genesis 49 presents the aged Jacob giving blessings to his twelve sons. He has words for each, an ironic act given that Jacob’s life was radically affected when he stole his brother Esau’s blessing from his father, Isaac.

Judah, the youngest of the four sons of Leah, receives his blessing in Genesis 49:8-12. This passage is loaded with images that become important in later texts. Judah is promised that his brothers would bow down to him, an act of acknowledging royalty. He is equated to a lion, the source of the powerful image of Revelation, the Lion of Judah. He is prophesied to wash his robes in wine, a foreshadowing of the saints of Revelation who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

The most intriguing text is Genesis 49:10:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

This is not an easy text to translate, but Christmas morning is no time to unravel that scholarly debate. Notice two things. First, the language of “scepter” and “ruler’s staff,” the physical implements of kingship. Second, the promise of one who is coming who is the true and rightful king commanding the “obedience of the nations.”

I know I have biases and presuppositions as a Christian, but I cannot help but see this as a prediction of the Messiah. Would he be a warrior? Maybe. Would he be a judge? Maybe. Would he be a teacher? Maybe. But would he be a King? Definitely! And this royalty is tied to Judah, the ancestor of King David and of Joseph of Nazareth. The coming Messiah of Genesis would be the King of Kings of Revelation. Paul promises that eventually, every knee would bend and every head would bow in recognition of his royal reign over all peoples.

The 19th century New England newspaper editor, Josiah Holland wrote a poem for Christmas in 1872 entitled, “There’s a Song in the Air.” This is the fourth stanza:

We rejoice in the light, 
and we echo the song 
that comes down through the night 
from the heavenly throng. 
Ay! we shout to the lovely 
evangel they bring, 
and we greet in his cradle 
our Savior and King! 

Christmas is a time of motherhood, of gifts, of stables, of babies, of angels, and of mangers. Let us not forget the original location was David’s royal city, Bethlehem, and that that manger cradled the “Little Lord Jesus,” our “Savior and King!” He and he alone is the King of Christmas.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

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Advent Week 3: The Ladder to God (Genesis 28:1-15)

An oft-mentioned but little understood biblical reference is “Jacob’s Ladder.” It comes from a story about the patriarch of the nation of Israel, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. It is difficult to point to a more pivotal figure in the history of Israel than Jacob, the person whose name is changed to “Israel” and whose twelve sons become the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The story of Jacob’s courtships and marriages reflects archaic practices and understandings that teach us little about family values, but Jacob’s journey and blessings from God teach us much about God and his plan for the redemption of humankind. In Genesis 28, Jacob leaves his mother and father (Isaac and Rebekah), fleeing from the wrath of his cheated brother (Esau) and journeys north to his relative Laban.

On the way, Jacob sleeps rough in the countryside. One night, he is given a marvelous dream in which the promise of the land and of a great nation originally given to Abraham is reiterated to Jacob, designating him as the chosen heir (not Esau). But this is not new. We have heard this promise several times before in Genesis. This time, though, the dream-vision reveals a staircase (or “ladder”) extending from earth to heaven. Jacob witnesses angels ascending and descending this hidden passage, moving freely from God to mankind.

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Genesis 28:12)

In a little noticed encounter in the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus praises his future disciple, Nathanael, for his demonstrated faith. Nathanael responds with a Messianic confession,

Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel. (John 1:49)

Jesus, rather than basking in this praise, pushes Nathanael with a “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” moment, telling him,

 You will see greater things … You will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. (John 1:51)

This is clearly an allusion to the vision of Jacob, the stairway to heaven full of angels. In Jesus’ interpretation, he himself is the ladder. Jesus is the connection between heaven and earth.

What does this have to do with Christmas?

Often, we understand the birth of Jesus as the descent of God to earth to dwell with men and women in human form. This is true, but there is more to the story. Jesus comes to us not simply as an emissary, but as a bridge spanning the gap between sinful humanity and holy God. In the English version of the 14th century Christmas song, In Dulci Jubilo, one of the verses has these words:

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart, and soul, and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened the heav’nly door,
And man is blessed forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

Prayer: Lord, may we not forget the door to heaven that was opened by Jesus, your Son. May we take joy in the spiritual stairway he provides, the great mediator between human beings and you, our Creator and Father. He was born for this! We thank you for this great gift. In his name we pray, Amen.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

Advent Week 2: Sacrifice of Son

Week 2: Sacrifice of Son Genesis 22:15-18

During Advent, attention spent on the Old Testament usually has the focus of fulfillment of prophecy. This follows the pattern of Prophet said thathundreds of years later, this happened to fulfill this prophetic statement. This is not the only type of fulfillment from Old Testament to New Testament, however. An equally important pattern is that of typology, a somewhat discredited and often neglected aspect of Scripture study.

Typology understands certain patterns found in the Old Testament as being pointers or precursors to the New Testament. These can be people, events, and even institutions. In the Old Testament, this pattern (or type) can occur several times, but all of these are partial and often unclear. In the New Testament, this type is fulfilled completely (the antitype). Many, but not all, of the Old Testament types point toward the Messiah, and these are the ones that interest us the most at Christmas time.

THE BIBLE, George C. Scott, 1966, (c) 20th Century Fox, TM & Copyright

One of the most dramatic stories in Genesis concerns Abraham’s near-murder of his son, Isaac. The birth of Isaac is itself a type of miraculous conception and birth, not quite a virgin conception but still marvelous. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had long past the child-bearing season of her life when she became pregnant through God’s miracle. Sarah herself conspired to provide Abraham with an illegitimate son, the fruit of her servant Hagar (the original “handmaid”). This Abraham/Sarah/Hagar/Ishmael incident did not meet the Lord’s plan, however, while the miraculous birth of Isaac did. Only through this legitimate, God-ordained child could the great promises of the Lord made to Abraham be fulfilled.

The Mt. Moriah event proved Abraham’s absolute trust in the Lord as shown by his obedience. Abraham was willing to kill, by his own hands, the son he had waited for over 100 years. God stopped this murder-testing at the last possible moment, speaking to Abraham while he had knife in hand. Seeing the purity of Abraham’s faith, God told him this:

I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. (Genesis 22:16-18)

The typology here is profound. A miraculous birth. An only son. A brush with death. An act of obedience. A blessing for all nations. It is not difficult to see this as a pre-enactment of the life of Jesus, the main difference being that God allowed his own son to die for the sins of the world.

At Christmas, we rightly celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Let us not forget that this baby became a full-grown man, and that he obediently climbed his own mountain and died so that we would all be blessed. And let us also not forget that he did not stay in the grave, being raised on the third day to life forever.

The well-known Christmas carol, “We Three Kings,” is remembered primarily for its first verse. But, consider the third verse:

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

John Henry Hopkins, Jr., who wrote this carol, understood the ironic symbolism of the gift of myrrh to the Baby Jesus. It was a “spice” used in preparation of corpse for burial (John 19:39). Myrrh represents that greatest of Christmas mysteries, that Jesus was “born to die.” Hopkins also knew the end of the story, though, and includes it as his final verse:

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia!, Alleluia!,
Earth to Heaven replies.

What a great Christmas word: Alleluia! Hallelujah! Praise be to the Lord!

Prayer: Lord, we marvel at the faith of Abraham, willing to kill his beloved son at your command. But we are utterly astounded at your willingness to give your beloved Son, your Only Son, who died for our sins. Our astonishment turns to gratefulness when we remember how much you love us. Bethlehem was only the beginning of this story. Thank you for the birth that took place in a humble stable, the advent of a Savior for our sins. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

Advent Week 1: Curse and Promise (Genesis 3:15)

Advent season is a good time to remember the scriptural background that led to the coming of the Messiah. The birth of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, in Bethlehem would matter little if not for the context of expectations and fulfillment of prophecies made before that birth. These earlier Scriptures define the coming Messiah in at least three important ways:

  1. What would be the purpose of the Coming One? I.e., why was a Messiah needed?
  2. What would be the identifying marks of this Messiah? I.e., how would he be recognized as the Promised One?
  3. What would be the characteristics of the Promised One? I.e., what roles would this person fulfill according to God’s plan

Clearly, these are not distinct categories without overlap and we should not expect them to be. They converge in a single person, anticipated for centuries and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

For Advent 2017, I would like to highlight references to the coming Messiah found in the book of Genesis. These reflect the oldest traditions from the people of Israel, even before there was a nation of Israel. The first one, seen by scholars as the earliest reference to a future savior, is in Genesis 3. We call it the protoevangelium, the first gospel.

This text comes at the time of the earliest and greatest crisis in all the Bible. Adam and Eve, the first human couple, have disobeyed the Lord, and this sin has led to a series of pronouncements from God given to Adam, to Eve, and to the serpent who tempted them in the Garden. The message for the serpent is a curse, demoting his to the status of the hated snake from then on. The Lord ends his curse with this prophetic word:

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.
(Genesis 3:15)

The great drama of human history is foretold in these words. Humanity is caught in the primeval and modern triangle. In one corner is God, the Father who loves his children but wants them to love him and obey him in return. In a second corner is the serpent, Satan himself, who tempts God’s children with the allures of sin and disobedience. In the third corner is the human race, unfaithful and needing help to resist Satan’s enticements and be restored to God.

The protoevangelium addresses this dilemma. It recognizes that the generations of people coming from Eve will hate and fear the tempter, even while falling for his lies. But the text promises a deliverer, a descendant of the woman who would deliver a mortal blow to the serpent while suffering a wound in the process.

We see this as looking forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection more than his birth, but the text reminds us that God’s intention from the earliest pronouncement was to provide a human savior. Not an angel. Not a demi-god. Not a specially created being. A human being who was born like any other man and grew from a baby to be a man. He had to be human so that he could die and then be resurrected from the dead. This crushed Satan’s power forever. At Christmas, we celebrate the first stage of this journey, the Savior of the World, destined for greatness, and born in Bethlehem to a loving mother and father in unimaginably humble circumstances. As Emily Elliot wrote:

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

This is the story of the baby of Bethlehem, the focus of Christmas who was to become the hero of humanity. May we marvel at the centuries of preparation for his coming, and the centuries of blessings we have enjoyed since his birth. May we pray the last two lines of Emily Elliot’s verse:

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College