The Christ candle gives us pause and encourages us to reflect on the birth of Christ, to ponder Him in all His perfection, purity, and blamelessness. Yet we would be remiss to only ponder Christ’s embodied blamelessness at birth without looking forward to what it would ultimately win for us at the cross.
For we know that before Christ’s entrance at the manger, humanity stood before God in a fallen state, relying on an imperfect sacrificial system. This is the same sacrificial system which Isaac and his father contended with in Genesis:
“Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?”
Where is the lamb for the burnt-offering? It is a terrifying question in all of its implications - the acknowledgement of human sin, our separation from God and the ultimate death that being made right with God requires. Isaac’s question encapsulates the cry of all mankind. Where is the sacrifice that will make us right with God, once for all?
And there is dreadful dramatic tension here (when the audience knows something unrevealed to the characters in a story), isn’t there? As readers we know that the boy who asks the question - Isaac - is meant to be the offering himself.
In the same way, as all humanity asks this question before God, there is a sinking recognition that we too, should be the ones to pay.
Yet Abraham’s next words are striking, especially in the context of Christmas. “And Abraham said, God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.”
God will provide the lamb, both in Isaac’s place here and in humanity’s place with the coming Messiah at Christmas. In Luke 2:12 the Bible says, “You will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Here in the manger, the lamb - the spotless, blameless, pure lamb - has made his entrance, and fulfills Abraham’s words.
Meanwhile, the sacrificial lamb provided by God here in Genesis, would spare Abraham the terrible actions he was about to undertake.
“And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.”
Here, Isaac is mankind. Here, Isaac is you and I. Here, Isaac is about to satisfy (temporarily) sin’s great demand - death. But here, Isaac - had he been sacrificed - would remain - as all other sacrifices before him and after him until Christ - an imperfect offering.
Yet it is as Isaac is about to be sacrificed that God intervenes. He says to Abraham, “Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.”
These words, which here in Genesis were uttered by God, are now uttered by believers at Christmas, and indeed everyday: “Seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.”
Sound familiar? As it says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son.”
However, this new Son, Christ, would not be an imperfect sacrifice like Isaac or a lamb, but a perfect sacrifice. This Son would not be man’s only son, but God’s only Son. This Son would not satisfy God’s wrath temporarily, but permanently. This Son is who we celebrate at Christmas.
The message of Christmas is simply this: “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, behind him a ram.”
Imagine Abraham’s joy, as he journeyed home that day with his son. That is our joy at Christmas. Christ has taken the death which we deserve.