Advent Day Three: The Test

The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”  And he said, “Here I am.”  He Said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:11-12)

Sometimes life goes sideways: family problems, financial challenges, career setbacks, natural disasters, or health scares can derail five-year plans in an instant.  This is particularly upsetting when you are trusting the LORD to lead.  We’re tempted to say, “God what did I do wrong?”, even though we know that he takes no pleasure in our pain. 

Abraham must have felt this way when the angel of the Lord told him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering.  Child sacrifice was a common practice in pagan worship; but the living God was supposed to be different.  When Isaac asked, “Where’s the sacrifice?” his father responded, “The Lord will provide.”  This was not only a test of Abraham’s faith, but also of God’s love. 

Taking risks when there is no safety net may seem foolish, but in our vulnerability, we are open to God’s intervention.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.” Abraham’s willingness to lay it all on the altar made him a friend of God, who was prepared to give his only son as a sacrifice for the whole world.  When we see the babe in the manager, it’s easy to forget that it was the moment of no return.  Just as Abraham began the ascent of Mount Moriah with Isaac, Jesus begins the ascent to Mount Calvary with the annunciation of his birth to Mary.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

 “When life brings us to the edge, Lord, you are there. None of the sacrifices we make can compare with the offering you made of your only son on our behalf.  The God of the universe became one with us in the incarnation.  Thank you for being our substitute.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Anointed Deliverer”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection.  Hyssop was used to apply the blood to the doorpost at Passover.  Oil represents the Holy Spirit.

Advent Day One: The Opening Act

 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9)

Advent began in the garden of Eden with God’s beloved, Adam and Eve.  Imagine his delight in creating the universe in a moment, with the breath of his Word and the dance of the Spirit.  The fireworks of light were the artist’s palette that he swirled into stars and planets.  Time stood still as he crafted a home for his creatures amidst a feast of colour, sound, taste, scent and touch.   From the beginning he had you in mind; like a bridegroom preparing for his bride.  But it all went terribly wrong when we exchanged our innocence for sovereignty, testing the limits of his love.  No longer able to see his face or walk with him in the garden, humanity began a tragic alienation that corrupted the earth and replaced the divine center with self-interest. 

Yet a seed remains of the original beauty, truth and goodness, reminding us that we were created for so much more.  We pause in those moments of transcendent joy, to feel God’s presence and wait for his return.  Thus begins our advent journey.

“Oh Lord, we give you thanks for the beauty we see in creation.  Your love is evident in the natural world and in the relationships we hold most dear.  Prepare our hearts for your coming during this time of advent. Walk with us as we ponder the changes in our life this past year.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Promised Seed”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. The apple represents sin and the seed is Jesus.  The flowers are God’s grace.


(The following is part of a collaboration between Mindi Oaten and Elaine Knudtson in God’s Garden of Grace. It is a creative response to the scriptures.

By Elaine Knudtson

Painting “The Anointed Deliverer” by Mindi Oaten

Exodus is a record of seminal events in Israel’s history leading to the deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and the establishment of God’s covenant on Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments.  With Moses as the central figure, God demonstrates his faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as he prepares them to enter the promised land.  His saving power on behalf of the people of Israel is revealed in the plagues of Egypt and the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.  Redemption is evident in the Passover narrative as God saves the firstborn Israelites through the sprinkling of the blood of an unblemished lamb on the door frames. Standing between the rebelliousness of the Israelites and the holiness of God, Moses mitigates God’s wrath by appealing to His mercy.  The glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle, built to worship and honor his presence in the fire and cloud, as he leads his people.

“Our Deliverer”

By Elaine Knudtson

Fostered in Pharaoh’s household, Moses emerges;

drawn out of water, tested in the wilderness, called by fire.

His people groan under Egypt’s yoke, awaiting salvation.

The staff of the Lord prevails, executing judgment through pestilence and plagues.

Redemption secured through the blood of the Passover lamb,

the children of Israel flee captivity through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea.

Protected by a pillar of fire, guided by a cloud, Moses encounters the glory of the Lord on Mount Sinai. 

Transfigured into lawgiver, judge, intercessor, and deliverer,

He descends, entrusted with the law and commandments.  

Enraged by idols conjured in his absence,

Moses smashes tablets and sentences apostates.

Chastened and forewarned, the faithful renew their commitment

to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, erecting a tabernacle,

anointed with the oil of obedience and wrapped in fine linen.

From eternity, behind the veil, our deliverer waits:

Jesus the Lamb of God.

Genesis | “The Promised Seed”

By Elaine Knudtson

(The following is part of a collaboration between Mindi Oaten and Elaine Knudtson in God’s Garden of Grace. It is a creative response to the scriptures.)

“The Promised Seed” by Mindi Oaten

Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch, traditionally ascribed to Moses.  The first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation form a parenthesis around the story of God’s relationship with humanity.  Created in perfection, sin and death entered the world through disobedience.  From the beginning, God seeks to return us to the garden, even though it leads through the valley of the shadow of death to the cross.  We are imprinted with the image of God and a longing for the divine that haunts humanity from Adam and Eve through Noah and the patriarchs all the way to the final apocalypse.


“The Choice” By Elaine Knudtson

The choice has been made. 

Like gods, we know good and evil. 

Banished from paradise,  darkness hides his face.

We labor in brokenness, calling to Death, “Who’s to blame?”

The Seed confronts evil with love.

Choose to dance in the symphony of creation.

Paint a rainbow after the monsoons of destruction.

Weave a tapestry of promise with Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca.

Sacrifice ambition on the altar built by  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Retell the story of exile in Egypt.

Ferment hope into the fine wine of  joy.

Dare to rise from the dead.

Transform our fallenness in the chrysalis of redemption,

as we await the bloom of the new creation.

Where humanity  failed, Christ  triumphs.

(New Revised Standard Version)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (1:1)

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”. . . When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (3:2-7)

[The Lord said to the serpent] “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (3:15)

The Lord God banished [Adam and Eve] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (3:23-24)

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. . . But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (6:5-6, 8)

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord. . . The Lord said: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (8:22)

[The LORD said to Jacob]: “I am the LORD, the God your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. . . All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (28:13-15)

Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. . . God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land [Egypt] to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (50:20, 24)