November 29, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 20:00 in the audio file.
Or, Some Anticipation Required
Series: Advent 2020 #1
I have never preached a series of advent/Christmas messages before. For a number of years I’ve taken the four advent Sundays and connected four confession exhortations or communion meditations, but never four sermons. I prefer keeping the course through a book of the Bible, at least up until the Sunday immediately preceding Christmas. Even then many times I try to link the providentially appointed next paragraph with the holiday theme.
But it’s 2020. If the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself, then could we say that change feels like the most normal thing? That obviously breaks down, and quickly, but I thought, why not? Revelation 17 and 18 go together, so pausing in between is sort of like parking on the downhill side. After these Christmas sermons and some sermons on our worship and liturgy, we’ll pick up in the Apocalypse and speed toward the finish sometime in the spring, Lord willing and the ‘rona don’t rise.
So, four whole messages for advent. Advent (from Latin adventus), as we’ve learned, means coming. Some people advent naturally, others of us have learned to appreciate the discipline of the season, and even how the annual month of conscious re-waiting for celebrating Christ’s incarnation (His first coming) orients us for Christ’s parousia (second coming). Not everyone gets excited about the Christmas holiday, and fine, but every Christian should be getting ready for the great day of the Lord.
What I’d like to do in these messages is consider some Christmas meta, not just sub details, but some of the overarching narrative that gives a pattern or structure for our beliefs. Christmas is a message about the coming of God’s Son, and Christmas gives meaning to God’s people.
To start that, I want to take a look at a part of the story that most people skip, or skim. We’re going to take a look at, and a look through, the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew. If your family reads Scripture on Christmas morning, you probably start in Matthew 1:18, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way” (or you read Luke 2 instead). And yet the first verses of Matthew’s gospel, the first verses of the New Testament are, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (1:1).
There are (at least) four large-scale encouragements, applications, plot points, object lessons, etc., in this genealogy. Don’t get anxious about how bored you’re going to be, at least wait a little before deciding you’d rather quietly disagree about the millennium.
In fact, the first lesson is just that: wait.
Waiting is an appropriate subject for a heavenly host of reasons, including that this is the first Sunday of advent, so it is the furthest Sunday from Christmas. Christmas is on Friday this year, so we’re almost as far away as we could be. We are at least post-Thanksgiving, which makes it lawful to talk about the next festivity, but it is also still November.
Waiting is also appropriate because 2020 has demanded it. “Fifteen days to flatten the curve” was 259 days ago. Lockdown deadlines approached, pressure built, and then deadlines were extended, restrictions added, inconsistencies multiplied, apparently arbitrary decisions magnified. We turned some anticipation energy toward elections, and what a sinus headache with your head in a vice on a plane climbing altitude that turned out to be. Whence comest relief? We can’t crescendo forever, right?
I like movies the same way I recommend marital engagements: short and sweet. Anticipation can be fun, if it doesn’t go on forever. I appreciate Melville’s work in Moby Dick, how he so successfully gave me a sense of how tedious months on a ship in the the middle of the ocean would feel, even as I felt that way wading through page after page reading about it. Solomon similarly nailed not only the content about vain repetitions, he captured it in his style.
Christmas is a lot about waiting a lot. As a kid, my sister and I poured over the J.C. Penny catalog and crafted our lists and presented them to our parents with sufficient time for ordering without Amazon’s overnight delivery. Then we’d go back to the catalog to visualize the acquisition of our lists into real-time use. That was Christmas to us, shallow, but not altogether wrong.
God’s people waited generationally for The Gift. They weren’t working from a wish list, they were working from divine promises, from God the Father giving His Word to patriarchs that He would send a Savior-King-Son. We do not have time to sit in their waiting shoes, but we can be encouraged by the Scripture written beforehand.
We should read the Scripture that starts the Christian story, a family story, a royal store, a sinful story, a long story.
> The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. > > Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. > > And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. > > And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. > > So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:1–17, ESV)
We probably know enough of the Bible to appreciate a lot of what’s here, and we also can spare a little time to learn some more about it. I mean, you’re not going to get these verses on a greeting card. I pray that after four weeks considering these verses that we will never be able to unsee these points, and at least introduce your reading in 1:18ff with “After waiting many generations for the Christ….”
Matthew 1:1 begins with the biblos geneseos (Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), the “genesis,” the “roll of birth,” the history of origin. While there are three paragraphs in the body of the list, there is an intro sentence and a conclusion. Unlike the genealogy that Luke provides going back through Mary’s side of the family to Adam, Matthew starts with Abraham down to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.
Matthew’s focus from Abraham through David to Jesus has a crucial connection which will be the subject for another sermon. For now, remember that both were given promises, both were called to believe, and neither of them saw the fulfillment in their lifetimes. They had to wait.
God called Abram to another land and said, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2), so that “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (12:3). By Genesis 15 Abram was still without a child, and the LORD not only reaffirmed that Abram would have his own son, the LORD also said, “know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred year” (15:13). After Abram’s sin with Hagar, God said, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout the generations for an everlasting covenant” (17:7). Then Paul explained further, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and his offspring. It does not say “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring t one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).
It turns out that Abram was 42 generations (or more) from Christ, over 2000 years. Isaac was a miracle, so Jacob, then Judah and his brothers (Matthew 1:2), but those only began the 400 year exile in Egypt. Abraham lived by faith, believing the LORD (Genesis 15:6), and waiting.
The genealogy in Matthew gives attention to David due to a promise God made. That promise is summarized in Psalm 89 (see the promise in context in 2 Samuel 7:4-17):
> You have said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.” (3-4)
Even the book of Revelation refers to Jesus as the Root of David, the one who has conquered and coming (Revelation 5:5; 22:16).
But according to Matthew 1:17 there were 14 generations between Abraham and David, then 14 more before the Babylonian captivity where Israel was 70 years waiting on the promised one, and then there were another 14 generations after Israel went back to Israel before Christ was born.
How many believers felt as if they were in Nomans Land, waiting. They waited for immediate deliverance from foreign enemies, deliverance from crooked kings and unjust judges and polluted priests, deliverance from the burden of the law and the sacrificial system, deliverance from physical and relational pains. There were over 400 years of silence from God between Malichi and Matthew, between the last prophet of the Old Testament and John the Baptist.
And then, the Christ came! But(!), He came quietly, privately, remotely, innocently. It would take another 30 years before Jesus was announced to the public, three more years of mixed reviews, and then He was put to death. How was any of that a relief to all the built up pressure? How could a baby born in Bethlehem possibly be what they were waiting for?
But He was.
> Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)
His name will be “Jesus for he will save his people from their sins” (verse 21). “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (verse 22), in fact, by many prophets.
Christmas is more than fun surprises of gifts and about promised deliverance by grace. But the package says in big letters: Some Anticipation Required.
This is how God worked before the first advent, we ought not be surprised if He calls us to exercise waiting muscles before the second advent. All of this was written that we might have hope. Not only is God, by attribute, the God of endurance (Romans 15:5), He gives hope and joy and peace in believing so that we may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
Many Gentiles are being brought to rejoice in Christ, the same Christ promised to the patriarchs, many of whom are written by name in the genealogy.
> The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles. In him will the Gentiles hope. (Romans 15:12)
Our Christmas Quick! needs are so high that we don’t even have time to wait two or three years for the wise men to show up in our nativity scenes. At least we can sing some songs with minor chords, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Jesus holds it all together (Hebrews 1:3) for generations. In peace and in war, in prosperity and in captivity, in summers and winters, in harvests and hardships, in sickness and in health, over lifetimes and centuries. So wait for the Lord.
> It will be said on that day, > “Behold, this is our God; we have > waited for him, that he might save us. > This is the LORD; we have waited > for him; > let us be glad and rejoice > in his salvation.” > (Isaiah 25:9, ESV)
Because of how God made the world, we cannot skip genealogies. We can skip reading them, though maybe we shouldn’t. But we can’t skip being in them. Some who came before you have been waiting to see what you would do when your time came. Others who come after you will look back to see how you ran the race, including how well you waited for the Lord.
> May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)