Advent 4: New Names And A New Son
“And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’ God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.'” – Genesis 17:15-21
When our solution… isn’t
Sometimes we can get tired of waiting for God to work and we decide to take matters into our own hands. After all, we might be thinking something like, “maybe God is going to fulfill his promise through my creative problem solving”. But as is often the case this type of solution turns out not to solve anything. That is exactly what we see happening with Abraham and Sarah. God had promised Abraham that God was going to give him a son, but this didn’t seem to be happening and his wife, Sarah, kept getting older and older. This is what happened in chapter 16. We can only imagine the disappointment, frustration, or anger Sarah may have been in. God had promised to give her husband a kid and she just wasn’t getting pregnant. What was she to do? In her case, she took matters into her own hands and told Abraham to have a baby with her servant Hagar. But this didn’t fix it. Sure, God gave Hagar a baby, but that wasn’t what God had in mind. And really, how could it be? Abraham had a wife and God promised him a child, surely He meant the child to come from his wife.
Narrowing and Expanding
When we get to chapter 17 God renews the covenant He made with Abraham. First, He gives him a new name. His old name, Abram, meant “exalted father”. Let’s pause for a minute and recognize the irony here. Up to this point, Abram had lived 99 years with a name that means father and did not have any children (imagine how much he must have been made fun of). And then to make it worse, God changed his name to something even more ironic and renamed him Abraham which means, “father of a multitude”.
God had promised Him a son, and he had gotten one, but not the way God had wanted. God then deals with Abraham so graciously and narrows his promise to let him know that the son that is going to carry on his line will be from his wife Sarah. This is where God brings Sarah into the covenant as well. To make this clear God changes her name too. Before this time she was called Sarai, but God changes it to Sarah. The reason for this is a little unclear since they are just different forms of the same word, but most people think that the distinction has to do with the fact that she is going to princess to a nation and not just to Abraham. So we can see it narrowing to Isaac but expanding to include Sarah.
However, this is not the only expansion we see in this passage. God tells Abraham that the covenant He is making with Isaac is going to be an “everlasting covenant”. This should get us thinking bigger than lands and families to something way bigger. Of course, Abraham wouldn’t know this at the time, but as we look back on it we can see that God is not just planning for something here on earth but on a covenant that will last forever.
So how does this affect the way we are looking forward to the birth of Jesus? We need to pause and reflect on the fact that God is a good God who can be trusted. We can have confidence that God is always going to keep His promises even when it looks impossible. Our God is a God who does the impossible. When I talk to my kids about miracles we talk about how a miracle is something only God can do. Not only is He the only one capable of working miracles, but it is also the way He seems to work best. This way we can know for sure that it was he who did it.
That is exactly what we see here. Abraham was 99 years old and his wife was 90. They tried their whole lives to have children but couldn’t do it. Having kids for them was going to be impossible. But when God makes a promise, even to accomplish the impossible, He will fulfill it. Just like God was able to give a baby to an old, married woman like Sarah, He is the only one who can give a baby to a young, unmarried woman like Mary.
We need to apply this to our lives as well. When we look around us today, it might seem like God isn’t in control. It might seem like there is bad stuff all around us and nothing good could come from it. But, we need to not let that keep us from trusting God to work the impossible.
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