15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
7 And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
How do we relate to the apparent distance between God’s lavish promises and our inability to understand them? In Genesis 15, that is Abram’s problem. God has made astounding promises to him, but Abram cannot fathom how the Lord could possibly fulfill these promises. The circumstances may be different, but the same tension exists in our lives. We're tempted to think that we must close the gap and that we are “on the hook” to deliver the performance that makes God’s promises a reality. But the story of Genesis 15 and the story of Scripture invite us to shift our gaze from what we must do to what God has done.
As Abram wrestles with lacking an heir, the Lord invites him to look up and number the stars. The Lord gives Abram a star-counting task that no person could complete, and then promises that the number of his offspring will be like the number of stars. Abram can neither count the stars nor have a child in his old age. All he can do is trust that the Lord will be faithful to His word. And so we read that Abram “believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).
When we struggle to understand God’s promises, He doesn’t “walk them back”. No, God invites us to look up and realize that the promises are even more amazing than we thought. And when we wonder how we can know that God will deliver on these promises, He amazes us yet again. The covenant-cutting ceremony in Genesis 15 is a picture of the Lord's faithfulness to do everything necessary to keep His promises. The Lord, represented by a flaming torch, passes through the gauntlet of animal carcasses. Meanwhile, Abram is asleep. The Lord is essentially saying, “May what happened to these carcasses happen to Me if I don’t keep My promise...and if you don’t keep your promise.” The Lord puts Himself on the hook and promises to close the gap between His promises and our ability to grasp them.
As Abram slept, the Lord’s plans to redeem the world were unfolding. And as most of the world slept, the Lord Himself entered the world as a baby. Christmas means that the Lord has come to close the gap, to put Himself on the hook (and eventually on a cross) for His people’s salvation. The baby in the manger is the one who came to keep God’s covenant and to pay the price for those who could not. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we enjoy all the blessings of being God's covenant people, the children of Abraham, the children of God. So if we feel “on the hook” to deliver the perfect Christmas, we have missed the glorious news of Christmas. The Light has come to keep the covenant and break the curse. All of God's promises are "yes" and "amen" in Jesus Christ. If we believe that, it should be a very merry Christmas indeed.