The Promises of the Ages (an Advent Article)
This is the story of the first Advent.
In the beginning, there was a garden.
Not a mere vegetable garden, but an all-encompassing paradise the likes of which we can scarcely imagine. This was a garden whose soil drank deeply of a flowing river that ran through its center; this was a garden with luscious trees, heavy with succulent fruit, which stood like pillars along the soft green landscape; this was a garden that was a home for animals of all kinds, who roamed and grazed in complete and unfettered peace.
This garden, called Eden, was also the home of Adam and Eve, the father and mother of all mankind. Theirs was the mandate from God himself to cultivate the garden, to exercise dominion over all living creatures for the mutual flourishing of man and beast, and to fill the world with their sons and daughters (Genesis 1:28, 2:15); and the very best of all, God himself drew near to them, and he “walked” with them in the gentle breeze of the evening (Genesis 3:8).
In the beginning, all was goodness and light.
But There Was a Deceiver
But there was one creature in this paradise who had a mind of his own, a crafty deceiver who loved neither the Creator nor his creation: the serpent (Genesis 3:1). The ancient snake knew that God had given only one prohibition to Adam and Eve: they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for if they did they would surely die (Genesis 2:17). All the fruit of Eden they could freely enjoy, save for the fruit of that one Tree.
The cunning serpent, eager to inspire rebellion, seized the opportunity provided by this lone command. At some unannounced moment, he approached Eve and asked her a simple yet devious question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Though Eve rightly answered that they were permitted to eat from all the trees except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the seed of doubt had been planted - and had taken root.
“‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:4–6).
The serpent was successful. The seed of doubt had blossomed into full-grown disobedience. Adam and Eve, who had been tenderly formed in the image of God and were the most like him of all creatures, tragically brushed aside the word of God to somehow become more “like” him; the cruelest of ironies. And though they did not die at the very moment that the fruit passed between their lips, they had plunged themselves and all of creation with them into wreck and ruin; their evening walk with God was forfeit, the image of God within them and their future children was fractured, and death was now inevitable for all living things. Sin, with all of its corruption and decay, had entered the world (Romans 5:12). Paradise was lost.
And we have been reeling from the fallout ever since, trapped in the same destructive cycle of doubt, rebellion, and deceit.
But There Was Hope
When God confronted Adam and Eve and the serpent with what they had done, he pronounced the inevitable curses upon them. The ground that once yielded plentiful food would now produce thorns and thistles, and only through painful toil would it be fruitful again (Genesis 3:17-19); the wombs that would have painlessly bore children would now know hard labor, and only through great agony would they bring forth new life (Genesis 3:16); and the deceiving serpent was consigned to crawl on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life (Genesis 3:14). With such a severe sentence passed, it may have appeared to Adam and Eve that the serpent had won.
But even in the decree of these curses, not all was as it seemed; indeed, God had countered the serpent by planting a seed of hope within his harrowing proclamation. For even as he was declaring his rightful judgment, he left Adam and Eve and all of us a promise: “And I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
The battle for love and obedience had been lost that day, but the war for the salvation of humanity was just beginning. God would not abandon his beloved people to hopelessness and destruction. One day, he would send a serpent-crusher, born of a woman, to rid the world of the serpent and sin and death once and for all; and even though the serpent would strike at the heel of this promised deliverer, he would not be able to stop him.
It is the realization of this great promise that we celebrate together during Advent. The promised serpent-crusher has come, and he has indeed dealt the decisive blow to the enemy. Through him, we are set free and restored back to God - and one day, Paradise will be regained. In the words of Frederick Buechner, when Christ returns again to reign completely, we will see that, “What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”
We have much to rejoice over during this Advent season, even as we await that much longed-for second Advent. Christ has come to rescue us! His promises are true and every word of God will be fulfilled!
It is thus my very deep hope that, as the winter days grow shorter and the cold nights last longer and the temptations to despair grow stronger, we will remember and cling to God’s precious promises just as his people have been doing for millenia - just as his people did for thousands of years while they awaited that first great Advent...