Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” The Lord told him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away. As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River— Genesis 15:7-18(NLT)
God promised Abram an heir to carry on the family name. Like God had done with Adam when he wanted to bless him with Eve, the Lord put Abram in a deep sleep. In that state God showed Abram the future captivity of his descendants in Egypt, and the ensuing Exodus. To seal this covenant God passed through the middle of the sacrificial animal halves Abram had prepared at God’s direction. And the sight that Abram saw was a smoking censer and torch – a pillar of cloud and fire.
What is so significant about this is that half a millennium later when all the events of the Exodus took place fulfilling the vision God gave to Abram, the Lord led the new nation of Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
God keeps His covenant promises!
Sharing the communion feast this past Sunday was (as it always is for me) a high moment. When offered the bread we hear: The Body of Christ, broken for you…. When the cup is passed it is: The Blood of Christ shed for you…a new covenant.
I always hear the promise of God’s covenantal grace in these – God says: for YOU! It is good to hear that; the promise comforts me, but His grace in the promise also humbles me; I did nothing to deserve God’s thinking of me.
God gave the signs of pillars of cloud and fire to Abram 500 years before the nation would see their God’s presence leading the way through a dark wilderness. All the prophets pointed to the “now” and “not yet” as God is always “working” and “will yet work”. God is always preparing for us. He was preparing His own sacrifice for our sins before the foundation of the earth!
And here, now in Advent, we still hear the words of the prophet who cried in the wilderness that we should prepare the way of the Lord, even as He is always preparing His grace…for us.
It’s comforting to know the God who always keeps His promises keeps on promising. And that is starkly so because today we still live in a wilderness. Nature, economics, politics, famine, disease and all the wickedness we can devise as human children of Adam are all part of our chaotic twenty-first century wilderness.
And it’s also humbling to remember how counter-cultural the promises of God loom. Our counter-cultural God has promised that the first are going to the back of the line, the high and powerful will be brought to the ground, the wicked are going to be uncovered, and every proud knee is eventually going to bend before the one who was crucified…for us! And He always keeps His promises.
You and I are created in His image…the image of a God who always keeps His promises. How is that image in you doing with your promises?