Advent; Or When God Comes Home
Reading Jesus' Birth by Remembering Genesis 1-2
What if the good news of Advent is that the one who has come and is coming is the one making this world a home again?
In Advent, we remember and celebrate the “arrival” of God, the “coming” of the Savior, the one who repairs all our ruptures.
We can often think of God becoming a human, arriving here on earth, is to cross an uncrossable divide, coming to a place that is totally different than heaven.
But what if that wasn’t the case? What if God coming to earth was more like coming home?
When we read the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, we need to remember Genesis 1-2.
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About a month away from our first son’s due date, we were preparing to move into the church parsonage. On a Sunday evening in late June we walked around the empty house, spackling holes, taping off ceilings and floorboards, and making plans to paint walls. In the morning we would open the paint cans and get started.
But God had other plans. A little after midnight we were on our way to the hospital instead. Soren was born the next morning, four weeks early!
Nothing in our old apartment was packed. Nothing in the new house was ready. And now we had a new baby to look after. With no home to go home to, Cyd and baby Soren headed to a hotel. Right at the beginning of our new life as a family, we were temporarily homeless. It was totally disorienting.
This experience matched the disorientation we would feel fifteen years later.
During the summer of 2018, we were fully immersed in our life as a family (now with two boys). But God changed everything again. After a six-week whirlwind, we discerned with friends and the Holy Spirit that God was moving us from Chicago to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
With the help of both our old and new communities, we were able to buy a house in Grand Rapids. As part of the sale, we agreed to allow the seller to stay in the house for thirty days after closing. So when we moved on Labor Day weekend to begin work at our new church, our house wasn’t ready for us. Fortunately, a friend of a friend offered to let us stay in his cottage on Lake Michigan.
The time in the cottage started off great—enjoying the beach, kayaking, gorgeous sunsets, stunning moonrises—but after two weeks we were getting anxious to move into our own house. We had left a home we’d lived in for fifteen years and a church we’d attended for seventeen.
We felt uprooted, disoriented, and disconnected. We wanted to be home. We longed for a place where we could set a table for new friends and neighbors.
Hard to Come By
We all live in a transitive world. People transfer to new cities for their jobs, upgrade to bigger homes, downsize to smaller apartments, or get new roommates. The days of growing up in a single home with your grandparents living just down the street have faded.
These days a sense of home is hard to come by. Many of us go about our days living in places we know are temporary, on our way to something else. We’re more disconnected from our families than at any other time in human history, and more on the move. We are more virtual and less face-to-face. It’s harder and harder to find places of belonging and connection than ever before. We long for a place where we feel rooted, grounded, at home.
The good news is that we always have a home with God.
In fact, all of creation is the house God built to make a home for his family. And God always intended to move in—to live with his family. God wanted to build a place that would become the foundation for joy—the place where humanity would know security in being known and loved by God, and from this place to venture out and contribute to blessing God’s creation.
The idea that the heavens and earth are God’s home is woven into the story of creation, found in Genesis 1–3.
Sometimes when people are learning to draw, they are asked to sketch familiar objects upside down and told to focus on the spaces between things. The idea is to get past the normal expectations and see something new, something that has always been there. The story of creation may be so familiar to you that you haven’t read it recently. But we want to urge you to look again—to approach this story from a different angle and see what you may have missed.
While it would be difficult to read Genesis 1–3 upside down, we are going to read it backwards. We’ll see how everything was made as a home for God to live in: a home where joy would spring forth from the relationship between God, the good and loving Father, and his children.
Not Just a Garden
If you were to go to work today and you found the place surrounded by the Secret Service, what would you think? Most people would assume the president of the United States was somewhere nearby. Why? Because the main job of the Secret Service is to protect the president. They are his security guards. Wherever the Secret Service is, you can bet the president is nearby.
When we look at Genesis 3:24 we find the exact same thing: God’s security guards.
Let’s look at the whole verse: “[God] drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”
God placed a specific kind of angel (cherubim) at the entrance of the Garden, to guard the way back in. Why is this significant?
Cherubim are especially associated with God’s presence. They are God’s Secret Service agents. Whenever we find cherubim in the Bible, God is nearby. So if we find cherubim guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden, that means they are guarding access to the very presence of God, to God’s home.
Now let’s back move to Genesis 2. Unlike the president, who’s generally inaccessible to normal people, God is not a distant government official. It might seem startling that God regularly walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But we won’t be surprised if we understand that God made the Garden to be his family home where he would live with his children (Genesis 3:8).
The Garden of Eden was created to be God’s house. He always intended to live there with his people. We know this because there are so many parallels between the Garden and the later temple in Jerusalem. Usually what we call the home of God (or a god) is a temple. Sometimes we think of a temple as the place to make sacrifices—the place God deals with our sins. That is true in a sense. But in the ancient world, a temple was first and foremost the home of a particular god. Even in the Bible, the whole point of the temple in Jerusalem was for God and humanity to live together as a family.
In Genesis 2—in the Garden of Eden—we find important symbols that reappear in the tabernacle and the temple of God. In fact, the later tabernacle and temple are copies of the original, the Garden of Eden.1 Here are some of the parallels:
God walks in the Garden: The only other times God is said to walk with his people is in the tabernacle (Leviticus 26:11-12).
The Garden’s entrance faced east, just like the later tabernacle and the temple (Genesis 3:24; Ezekiel 40:6).
The Garden was full of gold and precious stones (Genesis 2:11-12). The tabernacle and the temple were also adorned with these (Genesis 2:12; Exodus 25: 7, 11-39; 28: 6-27; 1 Kings 6:20-21).
God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to “cultivate and keep” it. The only other times these two words are used together is when the Bible is talking about the work of the priests in the temple (Numbers 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chronicles 23:32; Ezekiel 44:14).
But God’s presence wasn’t limited to just the Garden. As we move back from Genesis 2 to Genesis 1, we see that all of creation is God’s home.
Not How Long but What
When we read Genesis 1, we can get distracted by how questions: How long did it take God to create the world (literal twenty-four-hour days or metaphorical spans of time)? How old is the earth? How did God do it all? All these questions focus on the how of God’s creation. But too often these questions cause us to miss the importance of what and why God created.
The number seven offers an insight.
The only other places in the Old Testament where the number seven is mentioned so often is the construction of the tabernacle and temple. The seven days of creation (“God said, ‘Let there be . . .’”) are paralleled by the seven different instructions God gives Moses for building the tabernacle (“The Lord said . . .”). And when Solomon built the temple it took him seven years. He finished on the seventh month of the year, during the seven-day-long Feast of Booths. And his prayer of dedication for the temple has seven petitions.2
The importance of seven in the creation of heaven and earth and in the construction of the tabernacle and temple suggest that creation itself is the original temple for God.
And how do we know that God lives in this cosmic temple of heaven and earth?
Because of what happens on the seventh day.
Ready to Move In
But before we get to the seventh day, let’s go back to the first moving story we told—the one when our son was born four weeks early.
After Soren’s surprise birth on that Monday, our church jumped into action. Some people helped pack up the old apartment. Others helped paint the rooms in the new house. Some brought food for Cyd and Soren. Six days later, our church helped us move everything in. By that time we were exhausted from constantly running around from the hospital to the new house, from the old apartment to the hotel. We were tired of getting ready, tired of being in limbo. By Saturday it was time to move in.
And we were more than ready. It was time to stop preparing to live as a family and to actually start living! It was time to make this house a home. And we did!
We spent fifteen amazing years growing our family in that house— bringing our second son, Tennyson, home only seventeen months later. Our house was filled with the shrieks of wrestle time, the giggles of tickling and ridiculous jokes, the painful sounds of beginner instru- ments, the music of worship, the chatter of gathered friends and family, and deep connections with our neighbors. It was a home filled with joy—a place where we could be glad to be with one another, a place for joyful connections and a home base for creative adventures.
On a much grander level we see the same thing happening in the first chapter of Genesis. All of creation is like a new house where God lives—a place specially prepared for God, his people, and all of cre- ation to live together! It’s a house that will be filled with joy—where God is glad to be with his children. It was also intended to be a place where everyone and everything was drawn into that joy of connection. We see this clearly when God rests on the seventh day.
Where Does God Rest?
Normally we think of the seventh day of creation as the day when nothing happened. God rested (Genesis 2:2). And God gave us the day of rest—the sabbath—because of this (Exodus 20:11).
But if we only think of the seventh day as the day God ceased working, we’ll miss something essential. We need to ask, Where does God rest? and What does resting really mean?
Resting seems to happen best in a certain place. Some people have a favorite chair for reading at the end of the day or a porch swing on which to welcome the evening. Some love walking or hiking. Others snuggle under blankets to watch a movie. With a throw pillows, blankets, and a hammock, Tennyson has created the perfect place for listening to audiobooks—a little retreat center from the bustle of the house.
In the same way, throughout the Bible we’re told where God rests. God rests in the tabernacle or temple. In this case, resting doesn’t mean lounging around and doing nothing. It means that God is present there. In the ancient world people believed that the god they worshiped actually lived in the temple. That’s why they would offer sacrifices and worship in a temple—they believed they were in the presence of their god, in the god’s house.
Israel’s understanding of God was no different. In Psalm 132, worshipers are called to go up to God’s “resting place” to worship. This resting place also happens to be God’s dwelling place (vv. 7-8). But, as Isaiah reminds us, God doesn’t merely rest or dwell in the temple made by humans. Instead, he says, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What is the house that you would build for me? And where is my resting place?” (Isaiah 66:1).
All of creation is God’s resting place. And as God’s resting place, creation is also God’s dwelling place—his home. So when Genesis 2:2 says God rested on the seventh day, it means God moved into his house.
When Soren was born early, we spent an entire week getting our new house in order—packing, painting, and moving. But the point of all that was so we could begin the joyful work of raising our family.
After all this work we finally rested from preparing—in our new home. And for fifteen years after that, we were engaged in the joyful work of living as a family and inviting others to share our joy.
The seven days of creation tell the same story—the story of God creating a world he could rest in, a world made as a home for his family. And God didn’t move in so he could just sit around. He moved in to start living as the Father of his new family and as the King of creation.
Creation is God’s house, the place of his presence. The heavens and the earth are the home of God. In God’s house humanity was given access to God’s presence (God with us) and a share in God’s purposes in the world (God through us). God’s house was meant to be the foun- dation of joy, a foundation that would establish loving connections from which we could make creative contributions.
Not Home Yet
And yet many of us don’t feel at home in creation or in God’s presence. We are still looking for home.
After fifteen years in our first house, we were called away. We finally moved into our new home on the last day of September 2018.
As I (Cyd) write this in December of 2018, our new house still doesn’t feel like home. It feels like someone else’s house. It feels bor- rowed, temporary, and a little surreal. It will never be the sweet little parsonage I took my babies home to where they learned to walk and talk and read.The shrieks and giggles of wrestle time will never fill our new living room here. There won’t be backyard fires, clucking chickens, and, most notably, my neighbor Dale doesn’t live next door to us anymore. Even as I write this, I’m trying to hold back tears—the longing for the sense of rootedness and home that comes from fifteen years of memories and neighboring cannot be easily replaced. When I used to walk in the door of our old house after a long trip, I would breathe a huge sigh of relief and say, “It’s good to be home.” But that hasn’t happened yet in our new house.
We all have a deep ache for home—a place full of joyful connections and creative contributions. A place we know we belong and a place from which we can bless others.
And thank God that Advent is the reminder that one has come and is coming to make this world a home again.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.” (Revelation 21:3)
What feels like home for you?
How do you know when you’re feeling at home?
How do you try to make others feel at home?
Do you feel at home with God?
(This post is adapted from chapter two of Does God Really Like Me? Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us)
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