Salvation from Sin and Death
“We have all become unclean like one who is unclean, and all our unrighteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” – Isaiah 64:6
The story of Christmas did not actually begin with angels appearing to shepherds, but at the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1.
In the beginning, God created all things perfectly. He did not make any mistakes or overlook any details when he put the universe together. After the heavens and the earth were formed and filled with all sorts of wonders, God made Adam and Eve. He placed them in an ornate garden called Eden and provided everything for them, as a loving father would provide for his children. He assigned them the special task of ruling over creation as the world’s first king and queen. Adam, for example, was able to give the animals and plants any name he wanted.
There was only one simple rule that God set: in a garden full of food, Adam and Eve were not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And this rule came with a warning: if they did eat that fruit, they would certainly die (Gen. 2:17).
No one living today knows for sure how long Adam and Eve were able to spend in Eden resisting the temptation to go near that tree. Maybe they had many years there, so many that the threat of death had slowly become something strange or funny. Maybe the clever serpent who eventually tricked them had to wait for a long time, looking for the right moment of weakness to tell his lie. Or maybe they only had a few days to get a taste of life as God’s children before the fruit of that tree became irresistible to them.
All we know for sure is that when Adam and Eve listened to the lies of the snake and ate that fruit, they learned what it really meant to lose their innocence. They learned about sin. They felt exposed immediately.
For those living today it may be hard to believe that all the pain and disappointment we experience traces itself back to two people eating a piece of fruit. But would we have listened to God’s warning? God knew the seriousness of sin, even if our ancestors did not, and even though we lose sight of it. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). In these words we can see how suddenly the perfect world was broken, and how powerful the threat of sin and death became.
And this is where the hope of Christmas first came into play. Even as Adam and Eve provoked God’s anger by becoming disobedient children, willingly trading in their abundant life in Eden for a miserable life in the desert and polluting their lives with sin, God made them one important promise that rippled through every generation. He said very clearly that a descendant of Eve would still oppose the serpent and crush his head (Gen. 3:15). Instead of simply handing them over to the serpent, God promised that there would be a resistance movement.
So far as we can tell, God did not tell Adam and Eve all the specifics of their salvation from sin and death. They did not get a detailed account of when, where or how the world would be put back together and how he would take away the sin that polluted their lives. But all that really mattered in that moment of despair, when God was hot with wrath, was whether or not God had truly abandoned them. And through that one promise, God showed that he would not abandon his creation. Jesus’s birth was the fulfillment of this early promise.