Bible Exposition

A Very Old Testament Christmas

by Chris Pennington

advent candles

I always had a hard time sleeping on Christmas Eve! One year, my siblings and I all crawled out of our beds in the early hours of Christmas morning. It couldn’t have been much past 4:00.

We were allowed to open our Christmas stockings when we woke up, and since it was technically Christmas, we wasted no time. My youngest brother couldn’t get one of his candies open, so he asked each of us older siblings. When he was promptly ignored, he decided to ask my parents.

What would you do if your kid was standing at your bed at 4am asking you to open his candy? Well, you can imagine.

Christmas is the culmination of so much waiting for little hearts. It’s inherent in the season. And it turns out that anticipating Christmas is a very Old Testament thing to do.

When does the story begin?

When does the story of Christmas begin? In a very real sense, it begins with the first telling of the gospel in Genesis 3:15.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

When God promised the coming of the Christ, we started anticipating Christmas. This very first promise set the expectation. God would send a real flesh-and-blood person to set all things right and crush the evil one. Ever since that day in the Garden, the entire creation leaned forward in anticipation for the snake-crusher to arrive.

How does the story develop?

The story of the Old Testament is the story of God fulfilling that original promise. It is the story of how God preserves the promise of Christmas, the promise of the Messiah. As the story progresses, God fills out his promise, declaring that the promised Seed would come through Abraham.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing … . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed … . Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:2–3, 7; cf. Galatians 3:16)

As threats rise, God preserves the line, further cementing his commitment to the promise. Here’s a very brief overview of God’s early interventions to preserve his promise:

  • God delivers Isaac with a substitute (Genesis 22:12–18)
  • God feeds and preserves Jacob’s family (Genesis 50:20)
  • God miraculously defeats the Egyptians (Exodus 14:14, 26–28)
  • God sustains the Israelites with manna (Exodus 16:4–5)

God further specifies his promise, revealing to David that the Messiah would come through his line (2 Samuel 7:12–16). The drama that unfolds is incredible! The promise of God sometimes hangs on an impossible defeat of a global empire (Isaiah 37:36–38) and sometimes on a single infant being whisked away from slaughter at the last moment (2 Chronicles 22:11–12)!

But God continues to guard his promise through famine and feast, rise and fall, freedom and captivity. Why does the Old Testament follow the Israelite line? Because God’s fidelity, his trustworthiness, hangs on the promise of the Messiah.

How does the story culminate?

The major question at the end of the Old Testament is singular: “When will God send the Messiah?”

The anticipation builds to a crescendo as God’s final spokesmen start pointing to the Messiah’s coming (e.g., Isaiah 40:3, Micah 5:2–5, etc.). Indeed, the whole Old Testament leans forward, anticipating the Promised One and the New Testament opens with this pronouncement: “the Messiah is here!” Mary proclaims that God has “remembered his mercy” (Luke 1:53), Zechariah prophesies that God has “shown the mercy promised to our fathers” (Luke 1:72), Simeon awaits the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), and Anna is awaiting the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Christmas bursts on the scene like a sunrise because they had to wait through the night (Luke 1:78–79).

How waiting transforms Christmas

For centuries, many Christian traditions have celebrated a season called Advent (the word comes from a Latin word meaning “coming”). During this season of waiting for Christmas, many have observed prayer, fasting, and the like.1

You can take or leave historical Advent ceremonies and traditions, but if you miss the intention of the Advent season, your rejoicing on Christmas will lack the depth it could have.2

As we approach Christmas Day, lead your family in planned moments of Christian anticipation for the Messiah. Labor over your need for a Savior, over your hopelessness without Christ, over the agony of unanswered injustice, or over the need for the Kingdom of God to be fully realized. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a night a week (e.g., Sunday nights?) and focus on our need for a Messiah like Jesus. What is it believers longed for in the coming Messiah?3
  • As you approach Christmas Day, read Old Testament passages with your family that looked forward to the Messiah.[^4]
  • As a family, gather your hurts, cares, and needs and bring them to God. As we anticipate the coming of the Savior, we should lean into our pain and bring it to him. After all, his coming will wipe away every tear, quench every pain, and destroy death itself!
  • Sing or listen to advent songs like O Come, O Come, Emmanual or Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, which describe anticipating the coming of Jesus.
  • Sing, talk, read, and pray about Jesus’s reason for coming, his substitutionary death on behalf of all of us who were destined for darkness.
  • Talk about Jesus’s return (i.e., the second advent). What do you long for? Why do we need him to return? What wrongs will he make right? What joys will we experience? What peace will he bring?
  • Make Christmas a day of celebrating what you’ve been waiting for all month. As you gather your needs through the month, your desires for a Messiah like Jesus, you’ll have quite a list. On Christmas, you can read through your list and rejoice together that Jesus has come and will come again to bring the Kingdom of God fully into view!

May the season of preparation make the dawning of Christmas morning about more than presents in your home.


  1. It’s traditionally celebrated for the four weeks before Christmas. It begins the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas. This year (2020), that’s last Sunday, November 29th.

  2. For more on why celebrating Advent can benefit your family, see Seven Reasons to Celebrate Advent by Ryan Shelton at Desiring God.

  3. As an example, one week you can focus on why we need a perfect King; one week you can focus on why he need a spotless Priest; another week you can describe how we need a Judge who will make all things right; one week you can talk about Jesus as the perfect Prophet of God.

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