Christmas lights are shining. They’ve been on some homes for a while. Have you decorated your home? Christmas parties have already been held, and plenty more are scheduled. These are times for celebrating, times for enjoying friends and family, times for fun and games and whatever it takes to forget it’s cold and dark out.
This is Advent. This is a time for repentance. It’s a time for reflection, a time to recognize our sins and to admit what we deserve. It’s a time to confess them and beg for absolution, a time to beg God for grace, not just for forgiveness, but for help that we may do better. It’s a time to turn to Christ and look ahead to our coming salvation.
Abraham wasn’t celebrating. He celebrated many years before when God finally kept His promise to give him and Sarah a son. Now Isaac was getting older, maybe a teenager. God told Abraham something he couldn’t believe: “Go sacrifice your son. Yes, I told you Messiah will come from him, but go sacrifice him anyway.” How sad he must have been! How he must have wondered what God was thinking!
But off he went. He told nobody what was happening. Sarah certainly didn’t know. She would have laughed him to scorn. Isaac was clueless; he asked about the lamb and was told God would choose a lamb. Abraham told him a half-truth; he didn’t want to tell him, couldn’t bring himself to tell him, that he his beloved only son WAS the lamb for the burnt offering.
Imagine Isaac’s surprise! Once the altar was built and the wood arranged on it, his dad surprise-attacked him, bound him, and put him on the altar. Before he knew it, his dad was pulling out the knife and was going to plunge it into him at any moment. And then a voice from the heavens was heard. The Angel of Yahveh spoke.
He told him to put away the knife. The sacrifice was off. God could have raised Isaac from the dead; that’s what Hebrews 11 says Abraham thought was going to happen. But The Angel of Yahveh didn’t want to do that now. He would raise Himself from the dead someday instead. But for now, Isaac was to live and someday have a family. Abraham saw a ram that had gotten its horns tangled in the thicket. He got that ram and sacrificed it in place of Isaac. And The Angel of Yahveh told him his Seed would be great, would inherit the gate of His enemies, which means He would conquer them, and all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Him.
The Seed is not Abraham’s physical descendants. The Angel of Yahveh was not talking about a nation. He was talking about Himself. For this Angel speaks as no other angel. He speaks as God. He says Isaac was going to be sacrificed to Him, and you only sacrifice to a deity. The Angel of Yahveh, The LORD’s chief messenger, is the one St. John will call on Christmas: “The Word of God.” He is the Only-begotten Son of God, Who reveals to us His Father’s will.
I normally think of this story as a Lent reading. LSB gives it as the Old Testament reading for Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. But The Common Service has us read it today, on this first Wednesday in Advent. In Advent we are preparing for Christ to come. But we aren’t just preparing for Him to be born a baby in Bethlehem. We’re preparing for His entire life’s work, His work of suffering and dying and rising again. He will do this for us, in our place. The ram stuck in the thicket on Mount Moriah, the temple mount, took the place of Isaac on the wood of the altar of burnt offering. It gave up its life, and Isaac went free, free to live until he was 180. Jesus went up nearby Mount Calvary to be nailed to the wooden Altar of The Cross. The burnt offering showed total devotion to God, because He received it all. Christ on Calvary devoted His entire self, yes, His life, to our salvation.
He is Abraham’s Son, his promised Shield and very great Reward. He is The Seed of the woman, The Seed of Abraham. Isaac was his only son, but Isaac’s purpose was to carry on the line of The Seed. The purpose of the nation was to receive The Old Testament Scriptures and give birth to Messiah. Yes, they became great in number, but Christ has become greater. For He has won for Himself a family, children for God, His Church, with His holy Death.
He has taken your place. The ram took Isaac’s place. Jesus has taken your place, not on a cross, but in hell. For St. Paul tells us we needed to be reconciled to God. Why? Because our evil deeds have alienated us from God and made our minds hostile to Him. They have made us full of sin and blame before Almighty God. Almighty God hates sin. He must wage war against it. The sinner wages war against Him, for sin opposes His will. Sin is the will of Satan, the world, and our corrupt and wicked flesh.
God hates sin. This sin dwells in us. It is the works of darkness St. Paul tells us to cast off. Darkness is the time not just when Christmas lights are turned on, but when bad things are done by criminals. Think back to yesterday, last week, last month. What would make you hide from God with Adam? Your conscience tells you it was wrong. It tells you you shouldn’t have done it, that God should punish you because He knows you did it – after all, He knows when you’re awake and asleep.
But Jesus has taken your place. He saw your sinful state and decided to provide not judgment, but salvation, not death, but life eternal, not anger, but love and joy. He has taken the punishment you deserve. He knows when you’re awake and asleep, so He knows if you’ve been bad or good. He knows all your sins. But He does not want to punish you. He loves you. But since sin had to be wiped clean from earth, He did it with His Death. He bore our sins in His Body. He died for them. He suffered hell for us and then entered the grave. But He did not stay there.
Abraham was hoping for his son’s resurrection. Mary did get her Son back from the dead. And we shall receive our faithful departed back from the dead too, and they shall receive us. For He took our place in hell and in death. He has taken away sin, and where there is no sin, death cannot reign. It cannot hold us down. Isaac had to get off the altar, and the grave must let us go.
That is what Christ is coming to do. He will be born of Mary to die. He’s not coming to be a cute, cuddly baby. He’s coming to be crucified. He’s coming to die a horrific death. But out of that death you get the most glorious gifts. He is your Shield and Reward. He is your freedom from sin, your ability to do what is right, your eternal life. He is coming, and you are saved. He is coming, and you are blessed forever. The LORD has seen our sinful state, and He provides a Savior. He does not condemn. He saves.