Saturday, December 24, 2005

Advent Promise-Fulfillment Structures

In light of my post yesterday it occurs to me (as I am busy preparing for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday services), that one of the things that makes certain Christmas hymns so enduring is their focus on that which is central in the revelation of God. I do not know the backgrounds of the authors well enough to know if the particular Christmas works that I have in mind are consistent with their overall theological positions, but in some ways it doesn't really matter because when they reflect on the Scriptures in light of the coming Christ they get it right regardless of their intellectual and theological commitments elsewhere. They are like Christians who much better theologians on their knees praying then when they are on their feet teaching!

In the case of Christmas and the coming of Jesus, it is much easier to get it right because we come face to face with the promise-fulfillment structure of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus embodies precisely what he teaches in Matthew 5:17-20 and elsewhere. He has come to fulfill not only the verbal predictions of this incarnation (e.g., Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7) but to fulfill the typological foreshadowing that is bound up with Adam, Moses, Israel, leaders (like prophets, priests and kings), David, institutions (like the tabernacle, temple, Passover, sacrifices), and events like the Exodus. Everything is somehow or other related to him. He has not come to merely rubber stamp Moses or to apply the Old Covenant law in exhaustive detail as if that were the answer to all of our problems and would bring about revival (as some theonomists and others have been known to suggest); he has come to fulfill it. And as the fulfillment of the law he now shows us what it means and how it applies to our lives and he takes it in the direction that God has intended from the beginning. As we come to him and submit to his demands and his exposition of the will of God we honor him and God the Father who sent him into the world. He is the one and only Son, the beloved of the Father, and over and over again we are told to listen to him!

In celebration of Christmas here are two old hymns that pick up on the promise-fulfillment structures of the Law and the Prophets.

"Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit, rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne."

(Charles Wesley)

"O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight.
O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high and order all things far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go.
O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind.
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven's peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!"

(Latin Hymn, Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, 1710
translated by John M. Neale)

Wishing you a Christ-centered Christmas!

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