The First Advent: Birth of a King – Part 2/4
In 2008, a unique movie called Vantage Point hit theaters. The film tells the fictional story of an attempted assassination of the President of the United States. Dennis Quaid plays the starring role as a Secret Service agent who uncovers an assassination plot against the president. What made this movie unique was how the story was told. Each scene shows one particular character’s experience of the assassination plot. Minutes later, a “rewind” would take place and we see the scene unfold again, but this time, from the perspective of another character. Hence the name, Vantage Point. Each character offers clues and insights into the plot and only when shown together is the mystery solved.
In a similar way, we have not been given just one vantage point of Jesus’s birth, but multiple perspectives from a range of characters and experiences. For critics of the Bible, this often creates cause for concern, but for those who understand the Bible as the Word of God, these perspectives are vital to grasp the fullness of what happened during that first Christmas and first season of Advent.
Last week, we invited you to begin a four-week journey exploring what Advent is, how we enter into this ancient Christian practice, and how Advent uniquely shapes our Christian worldview. This week, we invite you to experience and understand the first Advent through the eyes of some key witnesses in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke: the Gospel Writer
The first set of eyes we invite you to see through is the Gospel writer himself. Luke was a physician and partner to the apostle Paul on several missionary journeys (see 2 Timothy 4:11). Luke possessed the necessary skills to develop a careful telling of the life of Jesus by his investigation of many eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4). What is most helpful to discover from Luke’s perspective is his tracing of the expectancy of a Messianic King, which ultimately found fulfillment in the advent (coming) of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Typically, when Christians read through the Bible, they are tempted to skip over genealogies. For Western ears, genealogies are confusing because we think they don’t matter. However, for the ancient world, genealogies were powerful devices to tell the reader something significant was happening. After two chapters of “showing” us that Jesus is the long-awaited King, Luke transitions into “telling” us how Jesus is King via his genealogy in Luke 3. Through a sea of names, astute readers of the Bible will recognize these two important characters: David and Abraham. Luke is saying that Jesus is the promised son of David who will reign forever as King, and that Jesus is the promised offspring of Abraham who will bless all the nations of the earth (2 Samuel 7:13; Genesis 12:3). There is a unique feature of Luke’s genealogy of Jesus compared to the genealogy we find in Matthew’s account. Whereas Matthew traces Jesus’s genealogy back to Abraham, Luke traces Jesus’s genealogy all the way back to Adam. What could this mean? Romans 5 provides us with a telling insight by describing Jesus as a new kind of Adam, one who did not bow to sin but offers redemption to all (Romans 5:12-19). By describing Jesus as the “son of Adam,” Luke is proclaiming that Jesus, though God, has fully taken on human flesh in order to rescue the entire world.
The second perspective to explore is that of Mary. In a Roman world obsessed with status and power, it is shocking that Mary is chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world. An unmarried teenage woman from a forgotten town in Galilee, Mary represents the bottom of Rome’s social hierarchy. However, God’s choosing of Mary echoes all of the unlikely characters in history God decided to do his redemptive work through. Mary understands this honored lineage she is a part of, as evidenced by her song in Luke 1:46-55, which describes the lifting up of the lowly, the filling of the hungry, the scattering of the proud, and the remembering of God’s promise to Abraham. But more than understanding her role, Mary’s response to the angel is a model to every Christian who desires to enter faithfully into each Advent season: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Mary’s response is one of surrender to God’s will and ways in her life, even if it comes with confusion, fear, or great expectation.
If you had news to share that would change the world forever, who would be some of the first people you would tell? Likely it wouldn’t be an obscure and overlooked group of people who sleep in fields. In other words, you wouldn’t share the news with shepherds. But this is exactly how God decides to share the news of the Messiah’s birth.
This is the third set of eyes we invite you to peer through, as we explore the first Advent climaxing in Christmas. Imagine your fear if your sleep were interrupted by an angelic army. The shepherds, after wiping the sleep from their eyes, are struck by the language of the announcement they hear. An angel of the Lord says: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy,” and “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:10,14). The reason these words are surprising is that they were familiar words to herald Caesar and his rule. Yet now, the very words used to describe the rule of Rome are being subversively co-opted to depict the reign of the long-awaited Messiah: Jesus. The shepherds are encountering the true Lord over all.
Luke, Mary, and the shepherds all invite us to experience the incredible reality of God becoming human in Jesus from their vantage point. The season of Advent is a means to an end: the meeting of a baby lying in a feeding trough on Christmas morning. Consider reciting these words from Every Moment Holy to cultivate a heart of longing:
As we prepare our house for the coming
we would also prepare our
hearts for the returning Christ.
You came once for your people,
O Lord, and you will come for us again.
Though there was no room at the inn
to receive you upon your first arrival,
We would prepare you room
here in our hearts
and here in our home,
Would you help train young people to think biblically?
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