Advent Day 4: Father Figures

The Hopes and Fears of all the Years are met in Thee Tonight”

  We all know the moment, even those of us who have never seen the movie. As Luke Skywalker hangs from a small antenna high above the surface of the planet Bespin nursing his recently lost hand, he curses Darth Vader, looking on with anger. It is at this moment that the Sith Lord reveals his true identity with those famous lines: “No, I am your father…”

     Why is this moment in cinema history so iconic? Why does it matter who Darth Vader is in relation to Luke? It matters because Luke’s Identity is inseparable from his family’s. If Darth Vader is Luke’s father, then all of the evil and darkness that he embodies is also present in Luke, and the young Jedi now must re-evaluate who he thought he was.

     This is the role of many of the genealogies in the Bible. Biblical authors remind us about particular people in a character’s lineage because that character is forever tied to their fathers. They carry the burden of their parents’ actions and persons, as well as their expectations.

     Matthew uses this reality to kindle wonder in his audience. Before he dives into Jesus’s fuller genealogy, he calls Jesus “the son of David, the son of Abraham…” Why? Because this is Matthew’s “I am your Father” moment. In the same way that the audience must evaluate Luke as the son of Darth Vader, the reader must wrestle with Jesus as the son of Abraham and David.

    What does that mean? It means that Matthew believes Jesus to be the one who will finally embody perhaps the two most significant covenants that God made with individuals of the Old Testament. Jesus embodies the promise to Abraham- that God would undo the fall of man and bless the whole world through Abraham’s family (Genesis 12:1-3), as well as the promise to David- that he would do all of this through a perfect king of David’s descent (2 Samuel 7:12-13). From the beginning of his Gospel Matthew makes the claim that Jesus is the solution to every problem the world has faced. Every sin, every oppression, every bondage would be undone through him. A person like this instantly ignites all of our hopes and dreams, and leaves us wondering how one individual might accomplish such a feat…

Passage:

-Matthew 1:1

Discussion Question:

-Imagine meeting a person who claimed that they were the solution to all of the world’s problems. How might you initially feel towards that person? How might you feel toward them if you became convinced that they actually were?

Advent Day 3: This is Not a Drill

“He Comes to Make His Blessings Flow Far as the Curse is Found”

     I was in jr. high when Cumberland Christian School began doing intruder drills. Despite the serious nature of the threat of an intruder, the school had a strange way of doing things. When a drill would begin, we would hear over the intercom “The boy scouts will not be meeting in the ____ today.” This was in fact, a crafty code, for the truth was that there were no boy scouts in our school! The location that they gave was actually the intruder’s location! Brilliant! The silly code and the lack of a real threat caused us to snicker a bit every time. That said, the day we had a real bomb threat was an interesting one. There was no snickering the morning we arrived. Many were in a frenzy, or at least quite seriously trying to process the situation. Despite all of the drills, the real deal was something totally different.

     This is the context into which the Gospel of Matthew inserts us. Matthew intends to generate wonder in his readers by rekindling all of their old hopes and expectations, and he will creatively use Old Testament echoes to do so.

     The first of these echoes occur in his first words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” Now our modern ears hear nothing in that phrase besides the dread of having to read another list of Hebrew names, but the original reader would have felt quite differently! That word- “genealogy”, is actually a Greek word you may know better than you realize: “Genesis”. Indeed, it’s the title of the first book of the Bible in Greek translations, and it’s the Greek word used for the phrase “in the beginning.”

     What Matthew is getting at could perhaps be paraphrased as “this is not a drill.” The Greek Bible began with the words “Genesis”, and every beginning since then has resulted in failure- from Adam to Moses to David: all merely “drills”. But this moment- this is different. Prepare yourself. This is nothing less than a new beginning- this is the Genesis of Jesus. This is the start of something new- maybe even something wonderful…

Passage:

-Matthew 1:1

Discussion Question:

-If you could have a fresh start in a new school, or a new job, etc. what would you want to do differently? What is exciting about a chance for a new beginning? Why do you think Matthew and his readers would be excited about a new beginning?

Advent Day 2: Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime

“I Wonder as I Wander…”

You’re probably familiar with the Christmas story. If so, it seems you are at a disadvantage this season too. The nativity scene has become a cultural icon. This familiarity however, has perhaps reduced the spiritual significance of the moment, as well as the messages it conveys about the way we relate to God and the feelings the story evokes. Today, the nativity scene is often treated as nothing more than a divine photo-op, as if Jesus needed a picture for his Christmas card, and set up a cute family portrait with reverent participants, an adorable baby, and cute, smiling animals, all set in front of a classic, rustic backdrop that could’ve been staged by Joanna Gaines.

Unfortunately, familiarity is the enemy of one of the most profound feelings that the Bible’s Christmas story communicates: wonder. The birth of Jesus filled its original participants with sheer wonder at all that was happening, and the Gospel authors write their stories in a way that is intentionally designed to help us experience that same feeling. That is the feeling that I hope we can recover this season!

So the first step in doing that is defining “wonder”. I think wonder is two-fold: two feelings converging in the same moment. It is the culmination of all of our expectations- the moment when it seems like our hopes may be realized. In the same moment, we begin to see small glimpses of what is to come, and simply ponder what it is that is about to happen- for it may be nothing like what we anticipated.

That is perhaps the most pure posture that humans can have toward God. Energized by the reality of his promises, yet continually captivated by the unexpected ways that He accomplishes them. This season, wonder. Abandon your familiarity. Lets appreciate the excitement of the imminent promises and marvel at the glimpses we get of their fulfillment.

Passage:

-Luke 2:16-18

Discussion Question:

-For a moment, forget what you know about the Christmas story. How do you think you would have responded to the events of that day if someone, like a shepherd, told you about them? What words would you use to describe the circumstances of the story?

Advent, Day 1: Christmas and Hot Dogs

“Now Ye Hear of Endless Bliss- Jesus Christ was Born for This”

I have a confession to make: I really love hotdogs. I know that’s a strange way to introduce an advent devotional, but bear with me. I often joke that I feel self-conscious about eating a hotdog. When you’re at a BBQ and the grillmaster asks “burger or dog” I feel like the implied, adult answer is “burger” Anything less draws the ire and judgment of some. I think hot dog people get judged. Maybe that’s just me- you can decide for yourself.

Regardless, I feel similarly sometimes at Christmas. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, but growing up in the church, the right answer always seemed like it should be Easter- the Easter people were REALLY spiritual- Christmas people probably just secretly liked it for the presents. After all, Christmas is meaningless without Easter, right?

That’s the mindset I want to change this season. We often view the Bible simply as a guidebook on how to get saved. We value it for its utility- what it does for us. With a view like that, the cross is really all that matters. Anything else is just fluff- or maybe just some extra details as a “p.s.” for how to live. That’s not how the Bible presents itself though. It’s not a manual- it’s the story of God, and man, and the world- with the goal of revealing to us the person of God. Every moment, every story, every word allows us to experience something new- and thus accomplish the goal of bringing us closer to knowing God personally.

So the Question this advent season really is not which one’s more important- Christmas or Easter, but rather, “what does the birth of Jesus uniquely communicate to us?” I do believe there’s something wonderfully unique about this moment in the story of the Bible, and it’s time to reflect on it.

 

Discussion Question:

-As we begin the advent season, what do you see about God’s character in the Christmas story? What kind of a person does it show us God must be?