Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Story of Christmas, from the Beginning

Once upon a time, and this is a true story, a man named Adam and a woman named Eve lived in a garden paradise. There was no death in that place. The animals were obedient to the man and woman. Every tree in that garden was good for food, except one. That one was not to be eaten from. It was the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, and the man and the woman were to avoid it.

The most wonderful thing about this garden was that God visited it. He came to walk in it, and He came to fellowship with Adam and Eve. God loved the man and the woman, and He made everything: the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees, the water, and the world, so that they might have life and enjoy it and Him. But they betrayed God. They listened to that great enemy of man, Satan, as he slandered the motives of God for withholding from them that one tree. They disobeyed God and ate from it. For their crime, they were cast out of paradise. Death entered the world of men. Labor became intense and less fruitful. Child-bearing became an agony. And worst of all, God no longer walked with men as He once had.

But He still loved them, but his people were changed and twisted. Hate had taken root in their hearts. They no longer trusted God or each other. The man that God had lovingly made from the dust, the woman whom He had made from the man, they were now incapable of love. They had fallen far and were broken things, as hideous and twisted as the serpent who assailed them.

God would not leave his children, broken as they were, without hope. Adam and Eve heard the serpent's doom, "Hatred shall be between her seed and your seed. You shall bruise his heel, but he shall bruise your head!" So Adam and Eve went away from God and they had children. Their first were Cain and Abel. Perhaps one of them would be the one to crush the serpent? Alas! The bitterness of death and sin! Cain rose up and crushed his own brother, not the head of the serpent. Abel lay murdered by the hand of his own brother. The earth drank his blood and mourned. Even the earth was in agony over the paradise that was lost.

And so Adam and Eve grieved, but all was not lost. God gave them another son, and they named him Seth. Eve exclaimed, "God has appointed for me another seed in the place of Abel, for Cain murdered him!" Perhaps Seth would be the one to crush the head of the serpent.

But no, God's plan lay far into the future. Adam and Eve grew old and died, as did Seth, and Cain, and all the children of men. As each one died, his body, ravaged by death, would be put into the ground like a grain of wheat at planting, hoping that one day it may rise again. Men were not made for dying.

The men of earth turned their backs ever more away from God. The garden was like a dream. The bright skies of paradise were replaced by the fog of death. The trees, once fruitful, became useless for food save only a few. The fertile fields that once volunteered grain in abundance now made weeds and bramble. Men accepted this world. They ceased to long for paradise and the good God who made it. They murdered. They coveted. They sought paradise in their own pride and name. God looked and was grieved.

These people were made in God's image, and they were made to love one another. Every robbery, every murder, every wicked deed was an assault against that remnant of beauty that God had implanted. The key to paradise, the door to heaven, was unlocked with unselfish love. But instead of loving each other and serving one another, they used and abused one another. God was sorry that He had made them at all.

So the Lord determined to start all over. He decided to kill them all and be rid of them, for they were very wicked and even spent all their time plotting evil. Yet, God still loved them, and a descendant of Seth was especially beloved. His name was Noah. God spared Noah from his wrath. He kept Noah safe in an ark while the world perished around him in a cleansing wash from heaven.

Noah lived and had sons. One of them was named Shem. God loved Shem and blessed him, and he had many sons himself. The world grew evil once again in the days of Shem, and God cursed them to wander separated. Perhaps if they were apart, they could invent less evil.

What of the serpent? He continued to whisper lies into the ears of men, who were only too willing to listen. He lied and led them astray. He taught them new evils and schemes and always told them that they were gods. He piled up judgment for himself as he wrecked the world out of selfishness and spite. The serpent wanted to be God as well. He coveted the Lord's throne and beauty. He was a rebel and a liar from the beginning, and he ruled as a usurper over the sons of men.

But God had not forgotten his words. And so, from out of the sons of men he chose a man named Abram, another descendant of Seth, and a descendant of Shem. He called to Abram and said, "Abram! Come out of that land in which you are living and bring your wife Sarah. I will bring you into a land you have never seen before. I will give you many children, but most of all, the seed of promise will come from you. Through you and your seed, Abram, I will bless the world." And so Abram went out as God said, and God loved Abram and was his friend.

Abram had a difficult time. Sarah never had a baby of her own, and Abram grew frustrated. In the land which God had promised, Abram owned nothing. He had no children, and all that he owned would pass to a servant born in his house. One day, when Abram was near despair, God visited his friend and said, "Do not worry, Abram. I am your reward and I am your shield." Abram scoffed and said, "Lord, you have given me no children!" The Lord said, "I will surely give you a child through Sarah your wife. You will have more children than there are stars in the sky, my friend. Count them, if you are able, so shall your offspring be." And Abram believed God, and God declared him righteous. God saw this loyalty, this faith, and He said, "Abram! I'm changing your name! No longer will you be called Abram, you will be called Abraham, because you shall be the father of many!" (Abraham means Father of Many.) So it came to pass that Sarah had a son in her old age, and they named him Isaac, which means "Laughter", for this boy gave laughter that drove away the darkness of despair.

In the course of time, the baby became a young boy, and Abraham loved his son. One day, God appeared to his friend Abraham and said, "Abraham, take your son, your only son whom you love, and go and sacrifice him to me on the mountain I will show you." Abraham saddled up and left with Isaac and a few servants, fully intending to sacrifice his son. For Abraham trusted God with his most beloved things; Abraham believed that if he obeyed, God would raise Isaac from the dead. God saw this and rejoiced. He stopped Abraham and said, "I will surely bless you! I will surely bring the seed of promise through you! You have obeyed me even in this, surely your seed shall bless the world!"

And so Isaac was spared. Isaac himself had sons, one of them was named Jacob. Jacob was a bit of a scoundrel, but God loved him. Jacob had an older twin brother named Esau. Jacob plotted and swindled Esau out of his birthright and his inheritance. Esau was so angry that he vowed to murder Jacob. Jacob fled for his life, and God saved him out of all his troubles. After many years, Jacob was to return home and face Esau. The angel of the Lord appeared to Jacob, and they wrestled. Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night, and the Lord wrenched Jacob's hip out of socket, yet Jacob still would not let go. He cried, "Bless me! Bless me! I will not let you go until you bless me!" The Lord said, "I will bless you! No longer will you be Jacob, but Israel! Surely, the seed of promise will come from you, for you have wrestled with man and with God, and you have prevailed!"

Israel had twelve sons. One of these sons was named Judah. Judah was a proud man, and his pride led to him plotting to sell his younger brother Joseph into slavery. It also led to him nearly unjustly murdering his daughter-in-law. But God was with Judah, and he led him to do what was right. In the end, he put the interests of his family ahead of his own, and he was willing to live his live as a slave if it meant setting his youngest brother Benjamin free. God moved Israel to bless Judah saying, "Judah! To you belongs the promise! Your seed shall have the obedience of the nations! The rule of the world will never depart from him!"

And so time passed. Satan, that old serpent, went about murdering and lying, and men went on sinning. The children of Abraham became slaves to Egypt, but God delivered them. He eventually brought them back to the land promised to Abraham, and they grew and multiplied. The sons of Judah were many, and one of them was destined to rule. Out of Judah sprang up a young man who loved God with all of his heart. His name was David.

David was born the son of a sheep herder, and he himself was a shepherd. But God knew his heart, and He meant David to watch over more than sheep. He wanted to David to watch over Israel, and so God made him king. One day, while David was worshipping and thanking God for His kindness toward him, God came to David and said, "David! I will bless you! Your seed shall sit upon the throne forever! Through him, I will bless the world!" David saw that his son would not only sit on the throne of Israel, but that his son would deliver them into a new kingdom. One like the long-lost paradise of old. David saw that his son would take away the original sin of his people, and David rejoiced.

Israel waxed wicked after the death of David, and many of David's sons rebelled against God. It got so bad that many of God's people despaired, and so God sent prophets to encourage the faithful and to warn the unruly. One of his prophets was named Isaiah, and Isaiah said, "I can see what it will be like when the Son of David comes! The wolves and lambs will lie down in peace! The lion will eat grass like an ox! People will not die anymore, and no one will murder or kill or make war! And David's Son will sit on the throne! And look! Look! The Son of David is not just an ordinary man, he is God's own Son! He will come and take away our sins! God will lay on him all our wickedness, and David's son will pay for them. We will call him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace! His kingdom will never cease to grow! It will fill the earth! He will reign in justice and righteousness forever!" Many of God's people rejoiced, but many did wickedly. God told Isaiah that when His Son came, most of his people would reject him and despise him, just as they despised God himself. The people turned on Isaiah because of his message, and under the orders of the King Manasseh, he was sawn in half.

As the years went on, Israel grew evil, as evil as the time when God destroyed the world by water, and so God scattered Israel and made them be the servants of other nations. The House of David fell into reproach and poverty. Everyone forgot the former glory, except for God. He watched over the house of David. God saw and loved a poor son of David named Joseph. Joseph was a righteous man, and he was engaged to a girl named Mary. Mary was also righteous and her heart was devoted to God. The Lord said, "Ah! At last! These two shall raise my son! These two shall hold the son of promise and the hope of the world!"

And so the Lord God sent an angel named Gabriel to Mary, and the angel told her that the savior of Adam, the Hope of Eve, the seed of Abraham, the pride of Judah, and the heir of King David would be conceived in her womb. Mary was overwhelmed and cried, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name!..He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our father, to Abraham and to his seed forever!"

At last! At last! It came to pass that the one who would crush Satan was coming! He would be born the son of a virgin from the House of Israel, and his father would be a son of David named Joseph. Caeser decreed that all should go to the city of their fathers to be taxed, and so Joseph went with Mary to his ancestral city called Bethlehem, and there the future King was born. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feeding trough because the inns were full. They named the little boy "Jesus", for He would save his people from their sins. (Jesus means "Savior".)

And so it was that the promise of God and the prophecies of his servants were fulfilled that night in Bethlehem. As it is written, "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel."

So the boy Jesus grew in stature before both God and man. He was just and kind, and the Holy Spirit of God was upon Him. But the people were wicked still, and because they hated God and could not endure loving anything but themselves, they could not love Jesus.

To be continued at Easter....

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