Thoughts for Advent: An Astonishing Departure

Leslie Leyland Field has written a thoughtful poem on the birth of Christ which begins, “Let the stable still astonish…”  The birth of the Son of God begins the story of redemption in human history.  We come, each year, to this beloved first chapter and are filled with wonder at Jesus’ astonishing arrival.  But there is a prologue not to be missed.  Its caption might be, ‘an astonishing departure’.

John begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…  All things came into being through Him…” This is reminiscent not only of Genesis 1, but Proverbs 8 – “When He established the heavens, I was there…I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth…”(27,30,31a).  “The infinite happiness of the Father consists in the enjoyment of His Son”, wrote Jonathan Edwards.  Before Bethlehem, even before the world began, there was delight, perfect knowledge (Matt. 11:27) and love (Jn. 17:24) between the Father and Son.  It was not enough that the Father’s delight in the Son was recorded by the prophets (Is. 42:1); He broke into the natural world and audibly declared it, not once but twice (Matt. 3:17; 17:5).  This ‘Son of His love’ (Col. 1:13) was the only acceptable Savior for our redemption.   John tells us the Father so loved the fallen world He gave the Son He delighted in.  The Son, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the uttermost” (Jn. 13:1).  That love is glimpsed here, at the beginning of the world, in Prov. 8:31b – “…And having my delight in the sons of men”.  Charles Bridges wrote with feeling on this passage:

“But the wonder of wonders yet remains – that he, who was his Father’s infinite delight, and infinitely delighting in him, should find  his delights from all eternity in the sons of men; that he should, as it were, long to be with us; that he should solace his heart with the prospect; that he should anticipate the moment with joyous readiness (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:7); that he should pass by the far nobler nature of angels to take hold of man, to embrace man as one with his All-perfect self!  But though he foresaw how they would despise, reject, and put him to shame; yet they were the objects of his everlasting love (Jer. 31:3) the purchase and satisfaction of the ‘travail of his soul’, the eternal monuments to his praise.  Yet for their sakes did he make humanity a temple of the Deity, for them did he exchange the throne of glory for the accursed cross (Phil. 2:6-8) – the worship of Seraphim for the scorn and buffeting of men – inexpressible joy for unknown sorrow.  Yes – thou adorable Redeemer, nothing but the strength of thine own love could have brought thee out from the bosom of ineffable delight to suffer such things for such sinners!  But this was the ‘joy set before thee, for’ which – unfathomable love! – thou was content ‘to endure the cross, despising the shame’.  For this love dost thou inherit thy Father’s justly proportioned  reward. (Phil. 2:8-11).  On this foundation is thy people’s confidence – rest – security.”

“…When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman…” (Gal. 4:4)  His astonishing departure from Heaven was to secure His people’s redemption and “make us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6).  Before the cross, Jesus gave expression to His desires for us in prayer:  “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me… I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Jn. 17:23; 26)  Is this not a glimpse of our goal, the glorious prize for which Christ Himself has laid hold of each of us and in turn it is what we are pressing on toward? (Phil. 3)  Truly, God is good; He has withheld nothing from us, not even His only Son!

…Love caused Your incarnation, love brought You down to me;

Your thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.

O love beyond all telling, that led you to embrace

In love all loves excelling our lost and fallen race.

Rejoice, then you sad hearted who sit in deepest gloom.

Who mourn o’er joys departed and tremble at your doom.

Despair not, he is near you, yea, standing at the door,

Who best can help and cheer you and bids you weep no more…

(Hymn # 156, Paul Gerhardt, 1653)

May God’s love astonish us anew as we meditate upon his Word.  There, may we each find the strength, comfort and hope needed for our journeys that we might experience a ‘fruitful abiding’ in Christ our Lord.

Cheryl Lanoue

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Grace Church Congregational

1055 Williams Street

Pittsfield, MA 01201