For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and all of it (the authority, the future, the possibility, the light, the grace, and the promise) it’s all going to rest on his shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6, author paraphrase
I just spent the past forty-five minutes or more looking through probably five-hundred images labelled “Nativity,” or “Manger scene.” What I wanted was something completely simple. But the best I can do is this visual in my head – that the arrival of Jesus must have been how I remember the birth of our first child: Anticipation, joy, struggle, pain, overwhelm, a mountain of love, a crescendo of emotion and light and noise… and finally a complete and irreversible breaking in of something new and unimaginable that first shattered then rebuilt everything we thought we knew and understood about time and space and life and family.
But I couldn’t use that photo so I grabbed this artful image from the Internet.
Jesus is God’s Promise:
My word for the week ahead is “PROMISE.” What I love about the word/idea is how it points to truth that is already resident inside of us. Not so much “a promise made” (“I promise to give you back the two dollars I borrowed”) so much as recognition of a deep ability or potential that has yet to be manifest (like, “He has so much promise as a performer,” or “She may be making average grades now but she is loaded with promise”).
This is my fourth word for Advent. I’m a day early because we only have until Monday night and then it’s Christmas. First, Light; then, Grace; last week, Invitation; and now, “PROMISE.”
The word promise works so well for Advent because Jesus – “The Promise of the Ages” – is absolutely all the truth about God’s love for us that was waiting to come into fruition since before the dawn of time. Jesus is the latency, the potential, the yearning, the anticipation, the intention, the hope, the homecoming, the consummation, the cumulative ambition of humankind to know God and to be reconciled with what is possible.
Jesus did not come to make a promise, Jesus came as – and always is – Promise itself.
“Promise” is a gift to us all:
When I was a lazy unmotivated kid in school, what was possible (though nowhere near revealed) in the young Derek Maul was – at least for a while – described as “promise” rather than “wishful thinking” because everyone knew it had to be there. Wishful thinking could never turn years of academic failing into summa cum laude later on at University.
Likewise The Promise who is Jesus-the-Christ opens a channel to the heart of God that has always been there. God has always walked in the garden, open for relationship with humankind, God’s children. “When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden” (Genesis 3). Promise has always been there. Now Jesus has become the gate and – through himself – invites us back in.
“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10
This is the promise that The Incarnation opens up. The child, helpless in an animal trough, bringing to fruition all that has been possible yet hidden since Adam and Eve turned away from God and buried promise under pride and deception and arrogance and confusion.
This is Your Promise!
This is the invitation (see last week) that Jesus also is. It is the invitation to live into Promise. There is no need to negotiate our way into God’s good graces, or to prove our worth via religious practices or self-righteousness holier-than-thou-ness. We are already covered… invited… accepted… by the Promise that is Jesus!
Going to church is not a way of proving ourselves, it is a means of celebrating this amazing redemption! I don’t invite you to attend Christian worship because in so doing you may possibly become acceptable to God… I – we – invite absolutely anyone to become part of this joyful community of forgiven sinners who have accepted the invitation to the party!!
So I don’t have any photograph other than our smiling faces and this ever-so-simple rendition of the birth of Jesus.
Live into Promise!
- And remember what this birth of a savior is: Anticipation, joy, struggle, pain, overwhelm, a mountain of love, a crescendo of emotion and light and noise… and finally a complete and irreversible breaking in of something new and unimaginable that first shatters then rebuilds everything we thought we knew and understood about time and space and life and eternity.
Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.
Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.