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The Promise — grace upon grace upon grace

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This year for Advent readings, we have gone back to the beginning. Back to creation where The Father, Son, and Spirit together spoke and breathed everything into being. And it was good. All good. Until the humans decided it would be better to be like God and messed all the goodness up.

But even in the sadness of that story, when perfection and peace are broken, there is grace. God meets rejection and rebellion with grace. He makes a sacrifice and a wardrobe. He covers them. Spiritually and physically. And He makes a promise of the Descendant who would come and crush the enemy.

And then, all throughout the whole Old Testament, all throughout history, God gives hints and shadows and pictures of Jesus, the Promised One. Sometimes, He even gives outright obvious prophecies of Jesus, Messiah. An ark of salvation from certain destruction. A promise of the One Who would bless the entire world. The call to sacrifice a greatly loved, only begotten son. The provision of a sacrificial ram. Provision in deadly famine. Forgiveness of unthinkable sin. Bringing good from evil. Rescue from bondage. The Passover Lamb. The column of smoke by day and pillar of fire at night. The tabernacle and temple. Dwelling among us. The Angel of the Lord. The Anointed One. The Kinsmen Redeemer. The only King God’s people need. Jonah’s long three days and nights in the belly of a fish. The Faithful One who pursues the unfaithful ones. The Restorer, the Healer of broken hearts. The Defender of the oppressed. The Son of righteousness.

Over and over and over again, we see grace woven throughout. Over and over and over again, God promises He is sending a Rescuer. The Promised One.

Even in the giving of the Law, there is grace. And in the breaking of the Law, there is the opportunity for repentance and the provision of redemption. More grace. And the hope of the One to come who would fulfill the Law and make all things right once and for all. The Ultimate Sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Mercy greater than sacrifice. Grace upon grace upon grace.

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And finally Jesus comes. Somehow the Word Who was with God way back in the beginning, the Word Who was God speaking “Let there be light” becomes the Light of the World. He doesn’t come as a conquering King, riding in to rescue His people from Roman captivity. He doesn’t come blazing in glory, as so many were hoping and expecting.

No, the God Who had chosen to speak to Elijah in the still, small voice, the quiet whisper, that God comes to earth in the quiet whisper of a virgin birth. God puts on flesh and becomes one of us. This whole mess started when Adam and Eve tried to become God, and the remedy is for Him to become us.

He comes to dwell with us. Emmanuel, God with us. And while He is here in the flesh, somehow, mysteriously completely God and completely human, He is moved with compassion for people. He has family and friends. He loves. Deeply. He mourns deaths and weeps. He empathizes and feels overwhelming tenderness. He heals and restores and brings life from death. He teaches and feeds and calms fears and storms. He challenges and rebukes. He eats and parties. He is witty. Jesus is good and kind. He has no prejudice, no rules for keeping people away. He is perfect love covered in skin.

All the pictures and promises and glimpses of Messiah come together in Jesus. And just like God made a way where there was no way through the Red Sea, Jesus is The Way where we could not make a way. He is the Passover Lamb Who takes away the sins of the world. He is the relentless Husband pursuing and redeeming His wayward bride. He is the ark we can safely abide in, rescued from destruction. Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise, the substance of every foreshadow. Jesus is the One all of history had been waiting on.

Better than the cloud of smoke and pillar of fire, better than the tabernacle, better even than the beautiful temple. Jesus, Emmanuel, came to dwell with us. God right here on earth, living and moving and being. With us. For 33 years. And then dying in our place, the death and separation we deserved and rising again, so that we can forever dwell with Him.

Advent is a time of waiting in expectation. This Advent season, we are reading the stories of those who waited in eager expectation for the birth of Christ, the coming of Messiah. And as we read, we grow more and more excited to celebrate the Promised One’s birth.

But another Advent stirs in our hearts. As we read the promises of the first coming, our thoughts turn to the promises of His second coming. When He really will make everything right. When we can dwell with Him forever, face to face. When faith will be made sight. When hope will be fulfilled. When only Love, love covered in nail-scarred skin, remains.

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