I will never forget that snowy December evening as I sat by myself in an empty hotel restaurant. It was two days before Christmas and my flight from Canada back to the States had been canceled. So there I was, in a spacious pink and green booth, eating dinner while Christmas songs played throughout the restaurant: “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “There Is No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” “Please Come Home for Christmas”. . . . It felt like every song was about coming home for Christmas. The playlist and setting were so over the top, my eighteen-year-old self could not help but chuckle. It felt like I was in a movie.
Yet the dissonance we feel over Christmas can be very real when we are away from loved ones and the place we call home. Christmas has a way of reigniting our desire for things to be made right again: for relationships to be mended, for deceased loved ones to be present again, and for the world around us to finally be at peace.
This yearning we feel is the same yearning that propels the biblical storyline. It leads us to that first Christmas and instills within us eager anticipation for Christ’s return. It is what causes us to sing,
O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
This longing to return from captivity in exile, to come home, stretches back to when Adam and Eve first sinned and were banished from the garden of Eden. Ever since then, we as humanity have lived as wanderers, estranged from God and cut off from His life-giving presence.
Throughout the first eleven chapters of Genesis, we find again and again our post-garden tendency to try to fix the woes of our exile on our own—“to reclaim the benefits of life with God—immortality, protection, rootedness—apart from God himself.” But we see in these early accounts, along with our lives today, that such an endeavor only plunges us into an ever-deepening path of separation from God and each other, concluding in hostility, alienation, and death.
Humanity’s early steps down this destructive path of seeking life without God are recounted in Genesis 1-7 and again in 8-11. Together these two sections present symmetric cycles that conclude in displays of God’s judgment and extensions of His grace.
In the first section, chapters 1-7, humanity’s sin eventually becomes so great that God can no longer let the horrors of its destruction continue. In judgment, He sends a great flood, allowing the waters of chaos to once again rise to their primordial state (see Genesis 1:2). In this judgment of de-creation, God’s grace is also revealed as He saves Noah’s family and brings about the re-creation of the world.
Yet even after this fresh start, Genesis 8-11 recounts humanity once again stumbling down the same destructive path as before. And like with the first section, God responds with judgment and grace: judgment in the scattering of the nations from Babel, and grace through God’s selection of Abram whose seed would be the conduit of their restoration.
In contrast to the fivefold use of the term “curse” in Genesis 1-11 (see 3:14, 17; 4:11; 5:29; 9:25), God’s initial calling of Abram includes a fivefold use of the term “bless” (see Genesis 12:2-3). God promises Abram, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB). This becomes a central promise that is restated at the end of his life, “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18, NASB).
By calling out this one person, Abram, God was working to one day call a people from all nations to Himself.
L. Michael Morales writes,
“Crucial for understanding the message of the Bible, the exile of the nations is the backdrop for the story of Israel. The nations are the target of God’s redemptive acts in history, and Israel was brought forth as God’s means to that redemption. God had called out Abram and created Israel to undo the curse, to bring blessing to all the families of the earth. He promised that one day the scattering from Babel’s ruins would be reversed and all the nations would be regathered together, streaming to God’s holy Mount Zion, the new Eden, and to the house built for Yahweh’s name— for his reputation, his fame, and his glory (Isaiah 2:1-4).”
As God calls Abram out from a scattered nation and leads him to the promised land, He providentially arranges his life to prefigure Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. In doing so, God intimates that an exodus like the one the Israelites experienced from Egypt will one day be experienced by a people from all the nations of the world.
At Christmas, we celebrate how the Seed of Abraham has now come “to make his blessings flow far as the curse if found.” God came to us to bring us back to Himself.
Christmas is an invitation to come home.
If you would like to explore the exodus pattern in greater depth, I highly recommend Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption by L. Michael Morales.
- “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,” originally translated by J. M. Neale (1851). ↑
- L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 35. Accessed electronically. ↑
- Below is David A. Dorsey’s outline of the literary structure spanning Genesis 1-11. Although arrangements for this may vary slightly between scholars, this general two-fold pattern is widely acknowledged.
David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 55. ↑
- Morales, Exodus, 40. ↑
- Through the use of unique words and phrases, Moses highlights the ways Abraham’s historic journey served to prefigure Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. Below are a few examples of this.
|Descent into Egypt Because of Famine (Genesis 12:10)||Descent into Egypt Because of Famine (Genesis 46)|
|Sarah Seized by Pharaoh (Genesis 12:15)||Israel Enslaved by Pharaoh (Exodus 1)|
|Pharaoh Enriches Abraham (Genesis 12:16)||Israel Plunders Egypt (Exodus 1)|
|Yahweh Liberates Sarah by Plagues (Genesis 12:17-20)||Yahweh Liberates Israel by Plagues (Exodus 7-12)|
|Melchizedek, Priest-King of Salem (Genesis 14:17-24)||Jethro, Priest of Midian (Exodus 18)|
|“I Am Yahweh Who Brought You out . . .” (Genesis 15:7)||“I Am Yahweh Who Brought You out . . .” (Exodus 20:1)|
|Theophany: Smoke, Fire, Darkness (Genesis 15:12-17)||Theophany: Thick Cloud, Smoke, Fire (Exodus 19:16-18)|
|Prophecy of the Exodus of Egypt (Genesis 15:13-14)||Prophecy of Exodus-Like Conquest of the Land (Exodus 15:5-16)|
- Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come!” (1719). ↑