Keeping Advent: December 6

An Altar

An Altar

Theme: Isaac

 
1 After these things, God tempted Abraham, and said to him: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am. 2 He said to him: Take thy only begotten son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision: and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will show thee. 3 So Abraham rising up in the night, saddled his ass: and took with him two young men, and Isaac his son: and when he had cut wood for the holocaust he went his way to the place which God had commanded him. 4 And on the third day, lifting up his eyes, he saw the place afar off.5 And he said to his young men: Stay you here with the ass: I and the boy will go with speed as far as yonder, and after we have worshipped, will return to you. 6 And he took the wood for the holocaust, and laid it upon Isaac his son: and he himself carried in his hands fire and a sword.
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Years have passed, and Abraham has a son named Isaac. This boy of about 13 is precious to him. He’s precious to Sarah, too. This is the boy, the Lord has revealed, through whom He will bless the world. Isaac is special.
And then God asked Abraham to do the unthinkable: sacrifice his child. His only son, whom Abraham loves. And Abraham packs supplies, takes two servants with him and Isaac, and takes off to do it.
Wait, what??
Abraham doesn’t even complain. He still trusts God. He’s seen time and again how God has provided for him. He’s seen all the little ways in which God has been fulfilling His promises to Abraham. And so when God says that Isaac is the boy through whom He will bless the world, Abraham trusts that it’s going to happen somehow, even if he offers him as a sacrifice. God said Isaac would be the beginning of the great nation. God’s done some amazing things – Isaac’s very existence is a clear demonstration of that – and so Abraham knows that it will somehow still happen. He doesn’t need to know how God will do it. He simply knows that God will do it.
There’s a telling line in this story that you might miss if you’re not reading carefully. I’d heard this story countless times in my life, and I only noticed it a few years ago. When Abraham gets to the place where God has asked him to make the offering, he looks at his servants and says, “Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.”
In case you missed it, let me highlight that: We will worship and then come back to you.
Abraham was going to sacrifice his son. And somehow, God was going to bring him back. I shudder at the faith of Abraham. I think he had more faith in his toenail clippings than I have in my whole body.
From here, when we read the Old Testament in light of the New, we see that Isaac is a type for Jesus. He carries the wood for the sacrifice on his own shoulders. He asks about the sheep for the sacrifice, and Abraham answers that God will provide it. When they get to the place, Abraham builds the altar and Isaac willingly gets on top of it. It’s worth mentioning that Abraham was more than 100 years old, and Isaac was a strapping boy of 13. Overpowering his father would have been easy. And yet he trusts his father implicitly.
Just as Abraham is about to slay his own child, God stops him. I can only image the relief he felt in that moment. I wonder how quickly he answered when the angel said, “ABRAHAM! ABRAHAM!” Was that second “Abraham” even fully spoken when he pulled his hand back and answered, “Yes, Lord?”
In the end, God did provide the sheep. A ram was caught in a thorn bush by his horns (more imagery of Christ’s sacrifice!), and Abraham and Isaac sacrificed this ram to God in thanksgiving.
Again and again, Abraham followed God’s direction, even when it was counter-intuitive. He was ready to act for God, ready to give everything he had for the Lord’s plan. Abraham’s faith and his dedication to the Lord should be our own inspiration. We should be ready to give our all to God, withholding nothing. We should be ready to follow His will for us, even when we don’t fully understand how it’s going to work. If we’re steeping our lives in prayer, truly seeking God and His will for us, He will reveal it and guide us through it. God will provide the means if we step out on faith.
One of the best examples of this in modern times that I can think of is Mother Teresa. She was already doing God’s will, working as a sister and teaching in a school in India. But then came the “call within the call,” and she eventually left the security and comfort of her order to form a new order. She lived in utter poverty and served the poorest of the poor, caring for people who were literally thrown away like garbage. And all the while, she trusted that God would provide for her so that she could care for His children. She had nothing to start, and was willing to beg for the means to provide for the sick and dying in Calcutta. Every day she would begin in prayer and then venture out to see what needed to be done. Every day she put herself in God’s hands and trusted that He would guide her, even if she couldn’t feel the consolations of her youth as He did it.
As for us, we might not be called to great things like Abraham and Mother Teresa. But we are called to follow God and listen for His voice, small and still though it is, so that we might live according to His will for us. We’re called to trust Him, even when we aren’t sure what’s going to happen next. We’re called to be emboldened our faith in Him, even if we can’t see the end results of what God is promising us. When Mother Teresa left her order, she couldn’t see what was going to happen any more than Abraham could when he left for the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. But for both of them, their faith was strong enough to help them to get through the unknown and to see God’s plan begin to unfold before them.
Meditation text and images © Christine Johnson
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