“Mommy, is it Christmas tomorrow?” The flicker of the tiny tree lights shimmered in my four year old’s eager eyes.
I laughed. “It isn’t even December yet, sweetie!”
But her question took me aback and I pondered before I answered. My four year old does not understand that we celebrate Christmas all month long and I found myself presented with a teaching opportunity I didn’t expect. I told her, “Well, Christmas is all about waiting.”
Now, you try to teach that to a four year old eager for presents! It is like teaching Algebra to a kindergartner. But in all seriousness, the conversation got me reflecting. Christmas is all about waiting. It really doesn’t make sense outside of the story behind the sparkly lights and wrapped presents. And don’t we all need that reminder again year after year as we wait too? That is why many in Christian circles call it “Advent”.
According to Dictionary.com, Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.” Indeed, then, Advent is the Arrival of the Messiah. So why is Advent celebrated by counting down the days until Christmas?
It is because the world had to wait a very long time for this grand arrival. And because we are still waiting for the 2nd Advent of Christ.
The First Announcement
Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’re all the earth
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth
So often we think of the Messiah as a fulfillment of prophecies, most famously Isaiah 7:14, “behold a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and shall be called Immanuel.” But did you know that Jesus was promised to us at the beginning of the story?
The traditional hymn sings, “Ye who sang creation’s story”. Creation is when it all began, way back in the garden. It was there that God gave the first announcement for the Messiah. But not when the world was pristine and new, for a sinless world needs no Savior.
No, it was three short chapters into the story, when Adam and Eve brought sin and all its consequences into our world by their one choice, a choice we continue to make every day we live this side of heaven.
Listen to Genesis 3:15: “..And the Lord God said to the serpent…’I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.’”
The statement begs the question – who will bruise the head of the serpent? It is answered in the beginning of the prophecy – an offspring of Eve. Some day, an offspring of Eve will come and stomp the head of the serpent dead.
So right there in that garden we hear the end of the story announced: Satan will not have the last word. Some day a Man would come and put an end to him once and for all.
It is interesting that the first announcement of the Messiah was given not to Adam and Eve but to the one who incited it all – the serpent. It seems we need to stop and acknowledge the significance of this.
In our modern Christian world, Satan is either blamed for all forms of evil or ignored in silence. In the circles I run in, we mostly don’t know what to do with him, which is understandable. No one really likes to talk about the “bad guy” as my daughter would say.
But if God’s first announcement of the Messiah is directed to Satan, we should stop and consider why.
John Piper has a great summary of Scripture’s characterization of Satan, specifically as he is described in Revelation:
“In Revelation 12:9 he is called “the great dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the world.”… Now what is the point of that image? He crouches at Bethlehem to devour the Son of God. And, failing that, “the dragon became furious . . . and went off to make war . . . on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17). So this is the monster who sweeps down a third of the stars, wants to eat the Son of God, and, failing that, wants to eat us. And he is marauding through the world for those who bear the testimony of Jesus.”
So Satan is God’s enemy first and then, as the result, the enemy of all who love God. This is significant. We must first see Satan as the enemy of God if we are to understand why God directs this first announcement at him. This is, after all, God’s story, not ours. God is the main character and his main enemy is Satan. So when God’s enemy tempts Eve to sin against God and succeeds, God’s first line of attack is against him. He asserts simply put, “You will not get the final word in this story.” Satan’s power is immediately put into check under God’s greater authority.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
1 John 3:8 answers that: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus had came into the world because Satan messed it up. When Satan introduced sin, he inbred into the world a permanent way of keeping God’s beloved creation, His very-good-image-bearers, from Him. It was, it seemed, a fatal blow. God cannot dwell with sin. What would He do now?
God’s response: send a Savior who in “becoming sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), would crush the head of the instigator of the great separation between God and man. Jesus would deal the final strike on Satan’s one great weapon – sin. Through Jesus, sin would be forgiven. And through Jesus, sin would be destroyed.
So what does this have to do with Christmas and us?
First, do you acknowledge that Satan has an active role to play in our world? Who do you hold responsible for the global-scale evil that exists? Yes, to be sure, man’s choices have a role. We are all held responsible before God for our choices. But Satan has a part to play too. If we ignore that, we neglect a great enemy in our lives. Jesus taught His disciples to pray daily, for deliverance from the evil one. That Satan is also our enemy is clearly a central component of our relationship with God. He is a supernatural being, with power that can only be defeated by Christ Himself.
But secondly, do you acknowledge that Jesus came to destroy sin in your life?
I remember a bedtime prayer my four year old recently uttered: Thank you God that I didn’t sin today. What’s a mother to say to that? Yet so often it is how I live! I live in a way described in 1 John 1:7, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If I’m honest, I act more like my four year old than I’d like to admit. Why is this the case?
Because the truth is, I sin almost in every breath and thought and it becomes overwhelming to look it all in the face. I remember a sermon I heard a while back with a potent description of how much sin one person committed in one five minute drive in the car, just in their thought-life. When I judge a person for the car they drive, or I look the other way when I drive past the homeless man, I sin. When I quietly think slanderous thoughts of another person, even I do not speak them, I sin. When I can’t walk into a room without thinking first about gratifying myself, I sin. I cannot think one single pure thought, no less keep my patience with my kids. Sin is not just losing my temper with my kids. It is every godless thought, deed, word, and attitude I exhibit. Sin is so pervasive in my life, I can’t face it all.
Ah, but the rich grace of God. I don’t have to. Jesus paid for each and every sin I commit every moment. I don’t have to carry that guilty conscience around with me anymore. I am freed; though I don’t deserve it, I am forgiven. I confess my sins, as He convicts me through His Spirit. And in that, I live a forgiven life, not a sinless life.
That is the message of Christmas: Announced first in the garden to God’s great enemy, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil – the sin that seeks to ravage our lives and our world.
But Jesus doesn’t destroy all sin right away, does He? We still sin every day, and sin still reeks havoc on our world.
That is why Christmas is all about waiting – waiting for the final consummation of this great gift from Jesus – a world without sin. That is why we celebrate Advent. That is what we are waiting for.
And so as we begin the slow count down to Christmas this year, let us count also the days until we see Jesus appear on the clouds and fulfill that promise made so long ago, with the final blow to the head of Satan and all the sin he brought into the world. Amen, even so. Come, Lord Jesus.