The first promise recorded in the Old Testament was not by an angel with choirs, just God talking. He finds Adam and Eve in deep shame, but quickly moves the conversation to the deceiver. Seems like Adam tried to shift the blame for his bad decision onto the woman, Eve. Not much has changed, men have been trying to shift the blame ever since! However, God ignores Adam and goes straight for the deceiver and blames him. Then comes the first promise. It is surprisingly a promise of Christmas and it lifts up the status of all women. I wonder how we missed that all these millennia, right? God tells the snake that the seed of the woman would eventually overcome the shame wounds he inflicted and crush his lying head.
The New Testament begins with the same ancient promise to a startled young woman, a virgin, getting ready for marriage. After warm greetings he gets to the point, “The one to whom you will give birth will be like no other, none from the beginning of the human race to the end. He will be a Saviour, and will bring healing to the wounds inflicted by the deceitful snake.” Confused she reminds the angelic presence of the impossibility of this promise, she had known no male to fertilise her egg. The announcer must have smiled when he said, “Young lady, there’s nothing impossible for God!”
Christians, like many Muslims, believe in a virgin birth. What differentiates us is the belief that Jesus’s birth was of incorruptible seed. He was more than a prophet. He gave us more than a compendium of good sermons and an example of love. He was begotten of the Father, the Word that began it all now made flesh. Now that’s a pretty big promise to live up to! The snake reappears to cast doubt again on God’s promise, this time in a desert. We call it the temptation of the Christ. Don’t confuse Jesus name from his title. Jesus was the baby born of Mary and the greek title ‘Christ’ meant messiah. The snake in the desert kept pushing Christ for proof to his title, “If you are the one, the Christ, then show it now!”
In the end Jesus did not compromise to his archenemy in the hot sands of the Judean wilderness. He would not resort to feeding himself miraculously. He wasn’t willing to prove God’s protecting power. There would be no miracles to save himself, not would he bow to the lure of prestige and power. He would stay true to himself even if it meant great suffering would await. He left with his ‘Christ’ identity intact.
This post was inspired by two images, first an inspired painting that depicts a pregnant Mary consoling the ashamed Eve. Please see the snake wrapped around the heel of Eve and the head crushed under the seed of Mary. The question I started with and want to bring some clarity to us all is “Did God keep His original promise made in the garden of Eden?”
The painting gives us an answer. The promise began to take shape in Mary’s belly, to a hard birth behind an overcrowded Inn in a stable, to a miserable neglected town called Nazareth, to a baptism in a river that led to the Dead Sea, to a desert testing, to three years of incredible happenings, to a betrayal and abandonment, to a the gruesome cross, to a dark tomb shut tight with a Roman seal, and to the miracle of all, resurrection.
Today I was rearranging my dresser in our tiny Parisian bedroom and came about a memorial service bulletin. That was my second inspiration for this writing, the image of my Mom’s beautiful face still free of the ravages of old age and cancer graced the front with her smile. She passed away on January 1, 2015. For a moment I missed her voice, her smile and her calling my name. And I remembered the promise. I’ll hear her voice and see her smile again. God’s promise to the world is more than an escape from hell. It’s the redemption of all things. I am not sure what that looks like, but I am certain that it includes the healing of our shame wounds that always lead to a death. Death gets outdueled, swallowed by a greater power, life!
My theology training took three years of study and thirty-four years to live, it taught me that Jesus, the Christ, came to release us from the fear and sting of death. The shame wounds you and I now bare, both inner and maybe outer, caused by our own choices, will be healed, redeemed. How to say it better than a letter we call first Corinthians, “this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”
The ancient promise spoken by God in first in Genesis 3:15 and later repeated by an angel to Mary is one of ‘joy to the whole world’. It reaches as far as the curse is found. It is for my mother, and for your’s. It is for you. And it is for me. It is for the people of war-torn Syria as much as it is for the people on the shimmering snow covered hills of Sweden! Sounds unbelievable. It did for Adam and Eve. It did for Mary too. I guess we all need to hear some smiling angel say to us, ” Hey there young man, young woman, is there anything too hard for God to do?”