Observing Advent is a relatively new concept for me, but one I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy. This Advent season I’ve been studying the unlikely persons who make up the lineage of Christ (check out Grafted In by Amy Gannet). Many of us are well acquainted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the forefathers of the faith. At times they exhibit incredible trust in God’s leading and at other times they act out of utter fear, selfishness and deceitfulness. They each experience mountain highs and valley lows in their spiritual walks, but God nevertheless uses them to further His redemptive plan and bring His Son one generation closer to the stable in Bethlehem.
While the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were very familiar to me, the next descendant to be chosen for the extreme honor of carrying on the line of Christ was less familiar and initially less spectacular. Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, seems a puzzling choice especially when contrasted with the incredible faith of his younger brother, Joseph, who rose from the status of slave to vizier of Egypt. Judah is less impressive and certainly less righteous considering his explicit guilt in selling Joseph into slavery which he explains as familial generosity:
“Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmealites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh’.” Genesis 37:26-27
When you take the time to trace Judah’s name though a couple chapters in Genesis, his story gets even more sordid. In chapter 38, we hear of his marriage to a Canaanite woman and the subsequent birth of three sons who mature into very wicked men. Er, his eldest son, acts with such flagrant wickedness that the Lord puts him to death. Unfortunately, our sin affects those we love, and Er leaves behind the grieving and childless widow Tamar who Judah ultimately and knowingly fails to provide for and protect.
When Tamar realizes that Judah has put her away for good, she conceives a plot in order to ensure she conceives a child. Judah, far from home and grieving the death of his wife, succumbs to a prostitute who three months later (surprise!) turns out to be his pregnant daughter-in-law. When he demands her unfaithfulness be marked with judgment and fire, Tamar shrewdly presents his signet and staff implicating his guilt in not only immorality but incest. Judah’s self-righteous anger quickly abates and he’s forced to admit, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Genesis 38:26.
Maybe this humiliation was a pivotal point for Judah. His life was rift with loss—loss of sons, loss of spouse, and now loss of honor. Loss can knock us to our knees and force our gaze up to the Almighty. Whatever the catalyst, something definitely changes in his heart because in Genesis 43 we see a whole new Judah. Judah pledges to keep Jacob’s favored son Benjamin safe in Egypt and ultimately offers to sacrifice himself on behalf of this brother:
“Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy [Benjamin] as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father” Genesis 44:33-34.
I don’t know about you, but this plea seems astounding. Can this be the same self-serving Judah that coldly sold Joseph into slavery? Can this be the same man who selfishly cast off his daughter-in-law? Is this the same guy that hired a prostitute yet demanded fire when Tamar was found pregnant? This same Judah offers to lay down his life as a slave in the stead of Benjamin? That kind of drastic change—from flagrant self-service to fragrant self-denial– can only be wrought by the power of Almighty God. And despite his many sins, God graciously chooses to bless him by prospering his tribe and continuing the line of Christ through Judah.
In the end, Judah does not seem such a strange choice for continuing Christ’s lineage. Judah is the very picture of redemption, and his transformation embodies the hope of Advent. The beautiful hope that God graciously and relentlessly pursues a relationship with broken and sinful people. A hope in God’s boundless love and incomprehensible power which He graciously pours out on absolutely unworthy sinners. Advent promises hope that we are not utterly cast off– God pursued us from heaven and sacrificed his only Son to bring us restoration and healing.
Let the truth settle over you—He pursues you. His relentless love sent his Son to a dirty, cold manger in Bethlehem, to the sick and lost crowds of Galilee, to the humiliating and bloody cross of Golgotha, to the isolation and pain of Hell, to the victorious resurrection from the tomb to His glorious ascension to Heaven where He even now sits beside the Father advocating on your behalf. This is love. This is joy. This is hope. This is Advent.
Advent exposes beautiful truth. Because of Christ, no one is beyond rescue—not Judah, not me, not you. Because of Christ, our sins are forgiven. Because of Christ, we are made new. Because of Christ, we are counted sons and heirs of God.
While the church calendar holds a prescribed Advent period leading up to the day of Christ’s birth, the life of a believer is really a life of Advent, a life of redemption and anticipation. Old Testament believers anticipated the first coming of the promised Messiah, and we join New Testament believers in the anticipation of His second advent when He will return to earth and eternally gather us to Himself. Broaden your scope of Advent and let your anticipation of Christ spill out and color the moments of your everyday all year long. Daily relish the goodness of our Savior and anticipate and yearn for his imminent and glorious return.