Abraham & Sarah & Simeon & Anna & Christ & us

Renáta Fucíková (Czech, 1964-), “The Promise,” 1996. Colored inks. Illustration from the book “Stories from the Old Testament” published in France and the Czech Republic.

“Go!” That’s God’s call, God’s command, to Abraham and Sarah at the start of Genesis 12. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Doesn’t say where, just that they should leave everything and go. 

But did you notice? There’s one command, but immediately it’s followed by not one, but seven promises. Go, and… I will make you a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. I will curse those who curse you. And through your little family all the families of the world will be blessed.” 

Some preachers will say to this, “Look, if you just do what God says, God will bless you.” They are wrong. That’s not what happens here. The promises are not promised after Abraham and Sarah go. The promises are heaped up before Abraham and Sarah have done a single thing.

Besides. They don’t do what God says, not exactly. God says leave your kindred and everything, but Abraham doesn’t do that. He brings Sarah and his nephew, and all their stuff, including their slaves. The promise, even at this early stage, is not a promise of what God will do if Abraham and Sarah obey. It is a promise of what God is doing regardless of whether Abraham and Sarah obey.

Sarah and Abraham are remembered as hall of fame pillars of faith and obedience, friends of God, and yet multiple times in this saga from Genesis 12 to 25, it is in moments of disobedience and doubt that God reiterates, renames, re-establishes these promises. In the end this story is not actually about Abraham and Sarah. It’s about God. 

This God, revealed in this story, is a God who keeps promises. One who keeps their word, not because of anyone else’s faithfulness or obedience. Rather it is God’s faithfulness to the disobedient and doubtful that leads them into a life of faith.

When we see the story unfold of Abraham and Sarah’s faithfulness, their obedience, and the New Testament is vehement about this, it is the word of God, God’s promise to be faithful to them that gives them faith enough to follow.  

And they do follow. And God does keep the promise. Even in their old age, after a long life as a barren couple, they conceive and give birth to a son, Isaac who with Rachel later gives birth to Jacob whose name is changed to Israel, and Israel’s 12 sons become the 12 tribes of Israel. God is faithful, and in time, lo and behold, they have been blessed into a great nation. 

This nation, though is constantly threatened, from without and within. But at no point does the doubt or disobedience of Abraham, Sarah, or their children ultimately prevent God from keeping God’s promises, all seven of them. 

God is so good at keeping those promises that the mounting command of the scriptures after Genesis is simply to remember. In times of difficulty, doubt, and disobedience, remember God’s faithful promises. 

And so, in faith and obedience, this is exactly why we do so much remembering in both baptism and communion. In both cases we begin the sacrament by remembering what God has done. 

It is right, and a good and joyful thing,

always and everywhere to give thanks to you,

Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

We remember how You formed us in your image

and breathed into us the breath of life.

When we turned away, and our love failed,

your love remained steadfast.

The authors of the New Testament, though, when they look back at this story they don’t just see the faithfulness of God, they see Christ. Those who witnessed the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, look back at all that happened before him and come to see Christ himself as the substance of every one of these promises kept. 

They see Christ as the whole history of the Bible, the whole Bible made flesh. He’s the new David. The new Joshua. He fulfills the law of Moses, and though he was rejected like Joseph, he ultimately saves Israel from destruction. They see Christ in the story of Jacob, of Isaac, and especially in the story of Abraham and Sarah. 

In fact the first words of the New Testament, Matthew 1:1 begin like this, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

God said to Abraham. God promised Abraham, I will make you a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. I will curse those who curse you. And through your little family, one day all the families of the world will be blessed.

By the time we get to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, here he is, the seed of Abraham and Sarah, through whom all the families of the world, all the nations of the world, are in fact blessed, and welcomed, forgiven and adopted into the family of God. 

But, just in case we don’t catch that right away, the Gospel of Luke does its best to force us to remember Abraham and Sarah right from the start.

Just before Jesus’ birth, Luke introduces Zechariah and Elizabeth… a faithful older couple who have never been able to conceive a child. When Zechariah is serving as a priest in the temple an angel visits him and promises that they will indeed conceive and bear a son.

The Lord remembers them in their barrenness and promises a son, and they help us remember the story of Abraham and Sarah and all the promise it holds right before they are visited by Elizabeth’s younger cousin, their descendent, who is also expecting. Her name is Mary. 

Soon, after Mary gives birth, it’s time for her son to be presented at the temple. When their little family arrives they encounter two people: an old man and an old woman. The old man is named Simeon. The Spirit had told Simeon, even in his old age, that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah, the promised one. 

As soon as Mary and Joseph walk in the door they are approached by Simeon who grabs their infant and lifts him in the air and spins him around singing “Joy to the world the Lord is come.” 

He sings a song of praise: “Master you may now dismiss me in peace, for mine eyes have seen your salvation. A blessing to the nations, and the glory of your people, the children of Abraham and Sarah.”

At that moment here comes the old woman. Her name is Anna. She sees Jesus and likewise breaks out in singing for she was a woman of eighty four who waited day and night in the temple on behalf of all who were awaiting redemption. When she sees the Christ child she praises God and begins to speak about the child to all who would listen. 

What’s really cool is if you follow the meaning of their names, you find the gospel. 

Abraham means father of a multitude and Sarah means something like First Lady. So together they are the Matriarch and Patriarch of a multitude, Mother and Father of a a promised people. 

Zechariah means The Lord has remembered. Elizabeth means God’s promises. Simeon means he is listening, and Anna means grace. 

The Lord has remembered the promises. And  for those who are listening, it means grace.  

Through these older adults and their encounter with God, the Spirit in the scriptures reveals that on either side of Christmas we are invited to remember this Genesis 12 promise. On one side, it’s the promise remembered. On the other it’s the promise fulfilled in sheer grace. 

There is one more couple I want to reflect upon. I guess maybe I went with couples from Abraham on because it’s Valentine’s day. The last couple is mentioned in both Old and New Testaments but they are most vividly revealed in the book of Revelation. 

They are not an old couple, neither are they young. They are eternal. They are forever joined together and no one, not one thing can tear them apart. When all else fails, these two remain united. 

The promise that brought them together cannot be broken, and even the gates of hell cannot prevail against them. The fruit and fulfillment of what was first promised to Abraham and Sarah is born in and by this couple’s union. This couple, they are perpetual newlyweds, and yet, they’ve been through everything together. This final biblical couple, are a bride and her groom. The groom is Christ and his bride is the church. Us.

In Revelation there’s a wedding scene in which Christ awaits the arrival of his bride who is adorned with jewels and fabrics and decorations and spices from all the nations of the world. And when she arrives they are wed in a way that cannot be undone. 

This is one way of seeing what God has done for us from Abraham and Sarah, to today, and forevermore. The marriage of Christ and his church is the only perfect marriage you’ll ever find because it is one in which God is the one who makes and keeps the vows. It is secure because it rests upon the promises of God in Christ.

Ultimately, through his cross, it is revealed that there is nothing our groom, a child of Abraham and yet the Lord, will do for his bride. He left his homeland, his father’s house, and journeyed to hell and back to win our hearts and to keep his word, to keep this promise.  

Kronheim’s Baxter process illustration of Revelation 22:17, 1880

I wonder what Abraham and Sarah think of all of this. There’s just no way they could have believed all of this when God first plucked them out of oblivion, and yet here we are. It can be hard to believe. 

When you read the Bible, and especially if you take it seriously, you can’t avoid noticing that God sure does promise a lot. In fact, so much is promised that it is common for us to doubt whether or not we can believe it. 

So, hear the Good News. God’s promise does not depend on whether or not you believe it. It never has. God’s love is not fragile like that. It is not conditional. It is for you. It is for all. And it is free. I promise.

When there is doubt, when we doubt, when we fail to keep the commandments, may God give us grace to remember the promises, and the mighty acts of God by which they’ve been kept. 

Let us remember Abraham and Sarah, and Zechariah, and Elizabeth, and Simeon, and Anna. But most of all, let us remember the one they all point to who is not just a promise, but a person, our faithful spouse, the Word of God made flesh for us and for our salvation, Jesus Christ the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

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