Originally posted in December 2015
A year ago I reflected on the wonder of “Unto us a child is born,” which took on fresh richness as Allison and I experienced new parenthood along with Advent. Now we can hardly believe that we have been parents for a year already! Our baby girl has grown and changed so much, and so have we. As Advent scriptures and songs once again circulate, different parts of them grab my attention. In a recent reading of Isaiah 9, the phrase “Everlasting Father” struck me. I love my little girl to death, but that is tragically literal – some day death will interrupt my fatherly love. An “Everlasting Father” is worthy of reflection.
Advent focuses our attention on the coming of a child, yet Isaiah, which the gospel Advent and Christmas stories have in their background, associates the expected child with some very adult attributes and titles.
God’s message through Isaiah was that a special child in the lineage of David would embody much more than baby cuteness. This child would bring God’s authority to bear on the whole nation of Israel, overthrowing darkness, oppression, and violence with light, justice, and peace. What at first appeared as a child would become a divinely ordained ruler; though initially a son, he would grow to offer fatherly care to the nation. The zeal of God would make that care have no end – it would be like an everlasting father.
This was Israel’s great hope. Through the child, God would save their nation forevermore. Through the child, God’s fatherly care for their people would be established and everlasting.
I’m only one year into parenthood, and little feels established, and nothing feels everlasting! My limits are clear. I have limited energy, limited patience, limited finances, limited understanding, and most poignantly, limited time. What I can offer is not everlasting – sometimes it’s not at all lasting!
I remember a conversation with my Aunt Kristen, co-founder of Inheritance of Hope, about parenting long before I had any experience. She had been mothering three children while also battling cancer for over six years. Her limits had become abundantly clear, prompting this memorable line: “When I first became a parent, I was determined to do everything right. Now I just hope I’m not messing anything up too badly!”
Of course Kristen and Deric were not messing up badly, but I can appreciate her sense of inability. We long to be limitless, “to do everything right.” We enjoy escapes into movies about superheroes who don’t have our limits; there’s even a new TV show titled Limitless. Yet we know we are inescapably limited.
Inheritance of Hope families know limits all too well. Their parents’ illnesses accentuate the limits that we prefer to ignore and bring them to the center of attention. These families do not have the luxury of pretending they have all the time in the world. These moms and dads know that their parental care for their beloved children is not everlasting. Their time together is short, measured in limited years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes… and then it is finished.
Into such a dire situation, Luke’s gospel echoes and expands God’s message through Isaiah in light of God’s presence in Jesus:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
This special child in the lineage of David embodied much more than baby cuteness. This child brought God’s authority to bear on the whole world, overthrowing all that darkens, oppresses, and does violence against God’s intent. What at first appeared as a child became the divinely ordained ruler; though initially a son, he grew to represent God’s fatherly care to all the world. The zeal of God makes that care have no end – it is everlasting. Even when Jesus groaned “it is finished” on the cross, it was not his last breath but merely his dying breath, because God’s care is everlasting – it has no last!
This is our great hope! Through the child, God offers salvation to all the world forevermore. Through the child, God’s fatherly care for all people is established and everlasting, lasting even beyond death.
The Christmas child grew to lose his human dad and refer to God most frequently and distinctively as Abba, the Aramaic word for “Father” or “Dad.” Abba conveys both tenderness and respect from children, young and grown alike. It is not baby talk, yet it is exactly the kind of simple word that is among the first toddlers can pronounce. The kind of word that Stella is just learning to associate with her parents. It is the sweetest of words!
I can’t imagine having to leave Stella, but one day my failure of imagination will be overtaken by the facts of reality. Death will separate us. Death will separate her and Allison, too. We are not everlasting, but limited, parents.
The child is born and, like all who are born, must grow and face hard realities, eventually including illness and death. That Jesus joins us on such a journey, beginning as a child, is truly worth celebrating! Those who grow to trust the Everlasting Abba, as Jesus did, share his resurrection hope. Hope is not that our time with loved ones could be long-lasting, as much as we would enjoy that. Hope is that God’s love for us is everlasting. This is Christmas’s “good news of a great joy that will be for all people.”
Aaron is Inheritance of Hope’s COO. This devotional was first shared in December 2015. Read more Inheritance of Hope blog posts >>