As we enter into the week of Thanksgiving, I find myself thankful for memories of better times. There is a vivid memory of my childhood in Orange, California, and the pure joy of enjoying fresh plums from a neighbor's tree. We had the typical cement barriers between our homes, and a deep purple plum tree from our neighbor’s yard grew over to our side of the wall. Our neighbor kindly allowed us to enjoy anything that would grow on our side of the fence, so I would climb to the top of the wall, sit on the cement divider, and enjoy fresh plums to my heart’s content. If I am honest, I have never enjoyed plums apart from those juicy ones that grew from my neighbor’s garden.
It might have been different for Adam and Eve in the garden. Provided with so many delicious trees, they had all the best and perfect fruits to enjoy from every tree, save one: the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. Instead of enjoying the fruits freely offered, they were deceived and disobeyed the law of God. By filling themselves with the taste of that fruit, they now were filled with fear of the One who had provided everything for them. And so they hid from God, tried to cover their shame, and began the blame game, even attempting to blame God for the sinful actions they had taken.
But mixed in the curses that God gave to Adam, Eve, and the serpent was a promise: The enemy of God who tempted and separated Adam and Eve from their loving Creator would be destroyed, and that God himself would save them, as the Seed of Promise. Genesis 3:15, the first gospel proclamation from God, declares that this singular masculine Seed of Eve would restore the broken relationship between God and man. God doesn’t follow up Adam and Eve’s rebellion with immediate death, but instead, he immediately sets forth his plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. While filling up on the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil had left Adam and Eve feeling empty and ashamed, but the new promise of the Seed that would restore this relationship filled them with a new hope.
Anxiety and melancholy often filled young Martin Luther. While studying at Erfurt, he found himself overwhelmed with his guilt and burdened by his sinfulness and broken relationship with a God he viewed as demanding and unhappy with his actions. It was very likely that Luther did not grow up in a home with a Bible because it was rare for households to have personal Bibles in the time before the printing press. While at the monastery, Luther would relish times spent in the library, pouring over the Word of God. One particular moment when Luther was feeling overwhelmed with worry and sadness, the young friar found himself reading Hannah’s account of receiving her son Samuel in 1 Samuel. Here, his melancholy turned to joy as he read the joy-giving gospel of our God, who fills the emptiness of our lives with life-giving promises. (Robert Kolb describes this story in Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God, p. 28).
Hannah was also filled with worry and doubt. Unable to bear children and tormented by her husband's other wife, she cried out to God. Her unspoken but visible grief was noticed and misunderstood by Eli, the High Priest. Here we have the pivotal moment: upon hearing Hannah’s pain, Eli speaks God’s promise. “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your request” (1 Sam 1:17b). When Hannah rejoices over the birth of her child of promise, she prays out loud, “My heart finds joy in the Lord” (1 Sam 2:1). Hannah proclaims the joy that comes from the God who fulfills his promises.
We are in a time of isolated grief. Our world is in pain and cries out to the Lord. But like Luther and like Hannah, we also receive God’s promise. Jesus is the promised Seed for each of us. It is time for us to feast; time to have our bellies filled. Shall we feed our anxieties and our selfish desires to live a life separated from the love of God? Or do we cry out to God, who knows our needs better than we know ourselves? God’s promises are true and revealed in his Word. Thus, we give thanks for the word of God, which declares:
But when the right time came, God sent his Son into the world. A woman gave birth to him, and he came under the control of the laws given to Moses. God sent him to pay for the freedom of those who were controlled by these laws so that we would be adopted as his children (Gal 4:4-5)
Our Father promises that we are his. Our Brother, Jesus, has freed us from sin. We are forgiven and loved by God because of what Christ has done. Let us fill ourselves not with our anxiety, but with joy and thankfulness because of the Word of God.