by Cassie Martin
During Advent, Christians anticipate the glorious incarnation of Jesus, born in the City of David. The Word of God, the image of the invisible God, became a flesh-and-bones human and dwelled among the people he created. During Advent, we sing, “O come, O come, Immanuel” – God with us!
As a human, Jesus would feel pain and know loss. He would be rejected and despised. So, we marvel that he would willingly step into the brokenness and hurt waiting for him in our midst. And, yet, Bethlehem’s manger is not the first place in which God knowingly draws near to humanity despite her sin. Long before Jesus walks away from his throne to be born of a virgin, we see God walking in the Garden.
Genesis reveals the first people’s joyous reality: abundant food to eat (Genesis 2:9), fulfilling work to do (Genesis 2:15), fitting partnership in marriage (Genesis 2:18), and a kingdom task. They were commanded to multiply and stretch the boundaries of the Garden to the ends of the earth (Genesis 1:28). God blessed them (Genesis 1:28) and desired to bless the earth through their obedience.
Perhaps you remember how it all went wrong. The crafty serpent plants a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind: “Did God really say…?” When they disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge, the first man and woman chose to exchange the reality they had enjoyed for “knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). What they imagined would bring them power and pleasure brought them shame. For the first time since their creation, they saw they were naked. Exposed to nature’s elements that would grow harsh with the infection of sin. Bare before the eyes of each other’s gaze that would grow critical and distorted. Knowing their guilt before God, they hid from him and sewed fig leaves together, desperately trying to cover their own shame.
By God’s response, we learn what kind of Creator God we have. He does not hide in return, waiting until they are covered enough and holy enough to reenter his presence. He does not abandon his creation to the harsh elements and hope they survive. He walks toward them: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8).
God enters into the pain and shame they have caused. He makes the first sacrifice for sin on their behalf and clothes them with animal skins to cover their shame and protect them. He tells them how sin would infect every part of their former reality in the Garden: food would be hard to come by (Genesis 3:17), work would be a grind (Genesis 3:19), marriage would be marked by contention and struggle for control (Genesis 3:16), and their kingdom task to fill and bless the earth would need to be completed by another.
“Before we ever thought to reach for him, he walked toward us.”
But, before he sends them out of the Garden, God makes a promise that echoes through history and resounds in the City of David. One would come through Adam and Eve’s line who would crush forever the power of sin and death (Genesis 3:15). Even in the Garden, God was already working out his plan to redeem his children – “to ransom captive Israel.” Before we ever thought to reach for him, he walked toward us.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”