I know what you’re thinking: “You’re an Old Testament professor. Of course you think the Old Testament is key to revitalizing the church.” True. I take your point, but I’m not naïve. At the start of every semester, my college students voice their impressions about the Old Testament: “It’s hard to understand.” “The violence is disturbing.” “The Old Testament God seems like a God of wrath.” “Women are treated like property.” And so forth and so on. I also know that if you have just a few moments for spiritual nourishment you’ll turn to Luke or Ephesians and not Leviticus or Ezekiel. So, is the solution to continue our path of disconnecting from the Old Testament? Or, might it be time to lean into what God has for us in the first three-quarters of the Bible?
Advent 2020 is a time when tree roots can grow into anchors amidst the high winds. This will not happen without the Old Testament. The traditional Advent Readings, the Jesse Tree, and Lessons and Carols remind us that we are part of a long, rich story. This is a story that stretches from failure in the garden, to promises to Abraham and Sarah, to deliverance from Egypt, to David’s throne, to Isaiah’s hope of God with us, to faith amidst exile, to God gracing a manger in Bethlehem in infant flesh, to a cross and empty tomb, and to a time when one called Faithful and True comes again.
Oh, how we need this long, long story of God’s faithfulness. Recently, I asked my students how reading through the Old Testament during 2020 has impacted them. One spoke of the comfort of realizing our moment in time is just a “speck” in light of the bigger picture of God’s story of redemption. The New Testament spans 100 years (maximum) of important history, but the Old Testament spans thousands of years of God’s story. The story includes times of famine, displacement, sickness, slavery, war, colonization, prosperity, and exile.
Seeing God’s faithfulness over long swaths of time—even during eras when He seemed absent—is so, so vital to our faith. I suspect that in 2020 we are poised to appreciate how this longer story from the Old Testament can give us roots to remain faithful amidst a relentless storm. Perhaps it was for this reason why Matthew begins his Gospel to a persecuted church with a genealogy from Abraham to David, David to exile in Babylon, and the exile to Christ. This may even turn out to be appealing in evangelism, as weathered pilgrims with deep confidence in God’s faithfulness hold forth the gospel.