Advent & Christmas 2013

Week 1 - Jesus Christ the final peace - for the whole of creation.

Isaiah 11:1-10 & Gen 3:17-19
The sentences from Genesis are part of a larger section which deals with the Fall of mankind.  Opinions vary about the degree to which this section of Genesis, which begins at the start of Ch3, is to be taken literally – personally I do not read it as being intended as a literal account of the fall of mankind, but rather illustrative of the breaking of the earliest covenant bond between God and mankind. 
Regardless as to how the passage is read a striking point is made – that the harmony of relationship between God and mankind is broken.  And, as we get to V17-19 we begin to see that not only does this have an effect on mankind’s relationship with God, with each other, but also the whole of the created order.  The picture of life ‘as it should be’ that Genesis begins with is utterly blown apart by the end of Ch3. And the full effects of the this fracturing continue to be spoken of through the whole of scripture.
At the heart of this catastrophic story stands simple rebellion.  When faced with the prohibition to eat from the tree, and under pressure from the voice of evil, mankind refuses to submit to God and questions Gods right to extend his authority over mankind’s actions, mistakenly believing that the penalty for such rebellion is nothing but a hollow threat.  Indeed the voice of evil suggests that the reason behind the prohibition is that God himself is selfishly trying to restrict mankinds ability and autonomy, that God is threatened by the idea of mankind being able to know good and evil. 
Immediately following rebellion comes shame.  The knowledge of good and evil is granted, and mankind is aware for the first time of guilt which leads to a real and experienced sense of shame – this is demonstrated by Adam and Eve making clothes.  And then the question is posed to them by God – ‘Did you eat…?’ The first sin of rebellion is then compounded.  The story speaks of Adam and Eve hiding themselves from God in shame and then attempting to extricate themselves from blame – the point the story teller is making is simple – that mankind’s nature is now corrupt, that innocence has been lost, and that the nature of the relationship between God and mankind has been fundamentally altered.  God is still benevolent, he makes clothes for them to wear, but this benevolence doesn’t mitigate the penalties for breaking covenant, and the penalties are far reaching – the whole of creation is now subject to frustration and brokenness, the result of fracturing mankind’s close and intimate relationship with its creator.
It’s one thing to talk in abstracted terms about the fall of mankind, to see it as a description of the state of creation and the state of mankind that we observe to a greater or lesser degree.  Regardless as to whether we read Genesis as a literal account or not, the picture that is painted of the state of mankind and indeed the whole of creation is likely to be recognizable to us.
Q:  In what ways do you experience the outworking of the rebellion and relational fracturing that we call ‘The Fall’ within yourself?
Q:  In what ways do you observe and experience the outworking of the rebellion and relational fracturing that we call ‘The Fall’ within the wider creation? 
Q:  Given the judgment on the whole of creation that Gen 3 speaks of, do you see ways in which God still shows kindness and grace to mankind and the wider creation?  If so in what ways? 
The promise of redemption
Alongside this fracturing and breaking of the whole of the created order of course the promise of redemption is made in various stages which ultimately find their completion in the incarnation of Christ, the Messiah, who restores mankind to the fellowship and intimacy with God that was the intention in creation and who points forward to a day when the whole of creation will be restored and made perfect. 
Paul in Romans 8:18ff speaks of the whole of creation groaning in anticipation of redemption as it is subjected to futility and difficulty.  The redemption that Paul has in mind is the complete and final redemption in which Christ returns and the new heavens and new earth are revealed. 
This picture is painted beautifully in the reading from Isaiah 11:1-10, especially in verses 6-10: 
“The wolf will live with them lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion together; and a little child will lead them.  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the vipers nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
In context these verses demonstrate the dramatic difference between the rule of human kings (in this case Assyria) and the rule of the kingdom of God (represented by the Messiah).

The verses before hand speak of the overthrow of the Assyrians and the emergence of a new ruler, the one who is called the ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’ – the one on whom the Spirit of the Lord will rest.  And the one over-riding characteristic of his rule is peace, so beautifully portrayed by the allusion to predators lying down with their prey.  Where there was once aggression and death, instead there will be peace.  The relational fracturing that has characterized mankind, and the brokenness that has marred creation will one day be changed and repaired. 

For the people of Isaiah’s time these words pointed both to the Kings of Judah who were all in one sense ‘messiahs’, but they also pointed beyond these kings to a king who would be the embodiment of all that the king should be, the full and perfect king – the Messiah. 
This Messiah would be the one who we call the second Adam.  The one who would redefine mankind, who would over-ride the curse of sin and death that mankind has borne, and the one who would reverse the effects of the fall.   Have a read of Romans 5:12-21 for some more on this idea. 
This Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, would be the final step to re-addressing the effects of the fall.  What entered human history through ‘one man’ would be dealt with by one man.  As Paul says “just as the result of one sin was condemnation for al men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all men.”
Q:  Thinking personally, in what ways do you need to experience the peace of the rule of Christ?  Do you have aggression and anger for instance that need to be transformed by the healing peace of Christ?  Do you experience shame or guilt that needs to be dealt with?
Q:  Are you aware of particular ways in which you might bring the peace of Jesus to your own relationships?  What’s stopping you? 
Q:  In what ways can you as someone who has received the rule and reign of Christ bring peace to the situations you find yourself in and the wider creation? 
The final peace…
Although glimpses of the peace of the rule and reign of Christ can be seen now, and although we are called to work for this end, the fulfillment of the promise is yet to come.  Just as Isaiah’s contemporaries looked forward to the advent of the Messiah so too we look forward to his second coming, the point at which the final age in which we find ourselves will be brought to a close and at which the rule and reign of Christ will be full and complete. 
This hope sustains us through the reality of the fractured and broken existence that we know. 

Simon Butler, 22/11/2013