One of my favorite Christmas hymns has a line, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”
The story of Christmas is about God’s promises. The first promise goes back before the manger, before the wise men, before all the prophets—even before sin entered the world. The first promise in the Bible appears in Genesis 2:17: “you shall surely die.” Not exactly the kind of heartwarming promise we would normally associate with Christmas, but it has everything to do with Christmas.
The promise proved true not only for Adam and Eve when they rebelled against God’s command, but also Adam’s race—all humanity. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). The first promise in the Bible—“you shall surely die”—strikes home with every one of us. We all know spiritual death by experience, and we will all experience physical death.
So why celebrate Christmas? God made another promise!
Like the first promise in the Bible, the second promise was given in the garden of Eden—but it was given after sin entered the world. Speaking to Satan in the serpent, God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen 3:15). In other words, a physical descendant of Eve would deal a fatal blow to Satan! This has appropriately been called “the first word of the gospel.”
“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).
The world rejects the meaning of Christmas because it rejects the promises of God—to begin with, promise #1: “you shall surely die.” When the world rejects God’s first promise as having any rightful claim on them, it can neither understand nor receive the Promised One of Christmas. It doesn’t accept that the cause of Christmas was its own sin. The world rejects the Christ of Christmas because it rejects the cause of Christmas.
Only if we believe that first promise—Oh, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining”—can we then rejoice in the Promised One of Christmas:
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope—the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
A graduate of The Expositors Seminary, Whitney Oxford serves as an associate pastor at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL, and as Professor of Old Testament and Assistant Dean of Administration at TES.