When Abraham Celebrated Christmas
When we hear the well-worn tale of the Christ child, we can be tempted to greet it with a yawn. We know what Christmas is about, thank you very much.
Well, Abraham didn’t. Here’s how I image he might have responded to the “good tidings of great joy” that he heard.
Any historical inaccuracies are the fault of the Wikipedia articles I read. (Just kidding. They’re my fault—although I did consult Wikipedia.)
After a long and harsh argument with my wife, I sought refuge in the solace of the desert night. Leaving our tent, I walked until home was a small fleck on the horizon behind me. As my anger subsided, my strides became slower and shorter. Finally I stopped. The moonlight cast harsh shadows on the ground, imitating the harsh way in which the moon had dealt with me in the past several years.
You see, I grew up worshipping our moon god, whose name was Nanna. My hometown served as the location of the chief sanctuary dedicated to Nanna. The moon god played a central role in my upbringing; it was his name that I learned to worship on into adulthood. And when Sarai and I failed to conceive a child shortly after our marriage, it was Nanna whom we sought to appease with service and supplication. And yet, with all our efforts, Nanna remained aloof.
Sarai and I had often visited the priestess in the sanctuary, hoping that our god would bless us with fertility. But each trip proved futile. Each prayer seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, our neighbors and family members experienced Nanna’s blessing time after time after time. The good news of another pregnancy only heightened our awareness of our infertility.
It may be hard for you to understand, but our culture directly linked our worth to the size of our family. The larger one’s family was, the more he was esteemed. Having no children was a shameful failure. Imagine attending a friend’s wedding in your worst clothes, and being seated in a position where everyone could see you. Now imagine doing that for years on end.
Try as we might to fit in and act normal, there was nothing normal about us. Many of our nights ended in arguments, with Sarai and me shifting blame back and forth like two children playing catch. I would often end up storming out of the tent and going for long walks. Just like tonight.
In the stillness of this night, I looked up at the moon, silent and oblivious to my suffering. And the moon wasn’t alone. A countless arrangement of stars danced and flickered like the moon’s happy children, mocking me with the painful truth that my wife and I couldn’t even conceive one child.
And just as that thought passed through my mind, the Giver of Life spoke to me. The words seemed to bypass my ears and germinate inside me, setting my heart aflame. Immediately, I somehow knew this voice was not from any of the gods I had served all my life. This was the voice of Yahweh: He who brought everything into existence.
In an instant, I became acutely aware that what I had been serving all my life was an enemy to this personal and righteous Presence. With terrorizing clarity, I saw that all my worship and all my work had been aimed in the wrong direction. It seemed fitting that the Semitic name for our moon god was Sin, because that is exactly what my life had been built on: the service of sin. In all of my time begging for the favor of the gods, I had been acting as an enemy to the one Deity who could actually hear and answer me.
As often happens when one encounters Yahweh, I found my priorities undergoing a dramatic shift. Our barren family, which just minutes before had been my life’s greatest misery, faded into the background. A problem of superior depth and eternal consequences had presented itself. How could I, a bondservant of sin, find rescue from the piercing presence of the true and living God?
As if in answer to my confession of woe, Yahweh spoke the most amazing and comforting words my soul had ever heard. He pronounced a blessing over me, promising to bring a savior for the entire world so that sinners like myself could be rescued and restored. That night, Yahweh preached the gospel to me and the news staggered me with inexpressible wonder.
On that blessed night, I received a special calling rather than the condemnation I deserved to hear. And in Yahweh’s abundant mercy, that calling involved something my wife and I had long ached for: the birth of a child. Our own child. Sarai and I were promised a son. This world’s Creator chose to meet my greatest need—something I hadn’t even been aware of—by giving me my heart’s desire. What kindness! What grace!
Your New Testament Scriptures quote our Savior as saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” I tell you, I had never felt such joy in all my life as I did that night. I’m sure I scared half my cattle to death while running and leaping back to my tent, shouting with delight, desperate to share the amazing news with my wife. Yahweh had promised us not only a son, but also a Savior.