The Advent of the Lamb of God (Retelling the Story Series), Russ Ramsey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.
Summary: A retelling of the story of the coming of Jesus, who would be God’s ultimate lamb, tracing from the Fall through Israel’s history to Christ’s advent, God’s relentless yet loving pursuit of his people.
Christians are story-shaped people. For anyone who would suggest that the Bible is God’s rule book, I would propose rather that the Bible tells us the story of God’s pursuit of a lost humanity and how we might be found by Him and live within that story. The older I get the more I’m persuaded that we often don’t really know the story we live within, and are sometimes shaped by stories that really aren’t our story.
What I so love about this book, and the series of three of which it is a part, is that Russ Ramsey uses three great seasons of the church’s life: Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and Pentecost to help us discover (or re-discover) our story. Through 25 brief reflections, he traces Israel’s longing for the Promised One, the Messiah, and then his coming in Jesus, Immanuel. Ramsey’s spare prose sketches out the main contours of the biblical narrative from the fall, through the coming of the Messiah, and briefly his baptism, and ministry, death, and resurrection, that fulfilled the longings of generations of Israel.
We’re reminded of the one who would come to crush the head of Eve’s deceiver, the one who would be sacrificed on Moriah instead of Isaac, the one who wrestled with Jacob, who was the new Moses, the faultless judge, the King promised to David. It is a narrative that stresses how Israel relentlessly tries to shake God’s grasp, and a God who refuses to let go of them because of his intention to bless them, and through them the nations. Ramsey writes:
Though they would wrestle with God, and though the Lord would hobble them, stripping them of their leverage, it would be because God was fighting for them even when they were fighting against him, even when they forgot the covenant the Lord himself swore to uphold. (p. 51)
He explores how God fulfilled his covenant promise through a silenced priest, an aged wife, a young girl, and a bewildered but obedient husband, all of them living under the thumb of the Roman empire, and their power hungry surrogate, Herod the Great. We are reminded of the real agonies the young maiden endured among the stabled animals, the wondrous birth, the angels with the shepherds, the flight to Egypt with the Magi’s gifts, and the joyful declaration and sober warnings in the words of aged Simeon of a sword that would pierce Mary’s heart.
This is not a tightly focused treatment of the birth narratives alone but connects them to what has gone before in Israel’s history. These are not disparate narratives but one narrative, in which the birth is a kind of culmination of what has gone before. Yet Ramsey accomplishes this by focusing on the main contours of the story, and by prose that is both imaginative and yet disciplined.
You may wonder about reviewing an Advent book in July. Yet Christian educators and worship leaders are anticipating the Advent season even now. This might be a great Advent devotional to be used, perhaps as an adjunct to adult education or a preaching series. It is a wonderful resource for young believers, as well as those of longer years who, immersed in theological argument, how-to-ism, or approaches that set the Bible at war with itself, might discover again for the first time this wondrous story. Ramsey’s book is no substitute for the Bible, or “Cliff’s Notes” for scripture, but rather an invitation to discover our story and immerse ourselves in it, allowing it to shape our lives.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.