The Abraham Window
This sermon is part of an Advent series featuring our stained-glass windows at Redeemer.
Text: Gen. 12:1-9, Heb. 11:8-16, John 8:48-59
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For centuries, stained-glass windows have been used to teach the Scriptures. In the grand tradition of illuminated manuscripts with their gold and crimson pictures of what the words in the Bible are saying, stained-glass windows are illustrations of the words that the people of God are hearing when they’re in the sanctuary. They have provided beauty and light in countless churches and cathedrals. They surround the congregation with depictions of what happened in the Scriptures so that those seated in the middle of them can find themselves right in the middle of those stories too.
Here at Redeemer, our use of stained-glass windows follows in these ancient footsteps. In the mid-nineteenth century, one member donated from his own money for Redeemer to begin a series of stained-glass windows so that his wife, who was hearing impaired, could meditate on the Scriptures during the service while she sat in the sanctuary. In these coming weeks, we’ll look a few of these windows that teach us about the promise of the Messiah and the coming of our Lord to take share our human nature.
We begin tonight with the window depicting the call of Abraham, our forefather in the faith, the father of the Old Testament church Israel. He was called to leave Ur, a city of the Chaldeans, which may be the city depicted in the background behind him. When the Lord called Abram, He made a promise to him. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The Lord promised to make Abram, already 75 years old, into a great nation, with descendants as countless as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the heavens. Up until this point, Abram and his wife Sarai had no children. Sarai was barren. This meant that the heir to everything Abram had was a much more distant member of his household by the name of Eliezer of Damascus. But the Lord promised an heir that would be born from Abram and Sarai. It would be through this heir, a child of promise, that Abram’s descendants would multiply and become as numerous as God had promised. As a token of this promise, the Lord changed Abram’s name, which originally meant “exalted father”, to Abraham, meaning “the father of nations.” The Lord also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, meaning “princess.”
Along with this promise of an heir, the Lord vowed to give Abraham an inheritance for him and all his descendants—a land of their own where they could live, under the Lord’s care and protection, free from the idols and false gods of the Chaldeans and others. God would give them a home, unlike Ur. He would give them, as the Bible verse at the bottom of the window says , “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” As we noticed before, there’s a city in the background of our window. It may be that this is Ur, where Abraham left. But it may also be the city Abraham was looking forward to, a depiction of the inheritance he and his descendants would obtain, even though they had to wait for it.
So, on the strength of those promises, Abraham set out. He left with his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot, both of whom are also depicted with him in the window, along with their sizable flocks and the other people and servants who were in his household. And for the rest of his life, this promise—the promise of an unlikely, even impossible son to be born—the promise of a land that would be his and would pass to this child—this promise shaped Abraham’s entire life. It is, as Hebrews says, that he received these things in faith, having seen them and greeted them from afar, and acknowledging that he was a stranger and exile on the earth, seeking a homeland that God would show him. And when the Lord did bring him to the promised inheritance, the land of Canaan, the Lord directed human history to ensure that Abraham’s descendants would receive what He had vowed to give their forefather. Thus, the Lord’s promise shaped not only Abraham’s life, but the life of all his descendants, all who heard that promise and believed and called on the name of the Lord. It is this name of the Lord, the faith of God’s ancient people, that’s depicted toward the top of the window, in the six-pointed star and the Hebrew letter yod in the center of it. The letter yod is the first letter of the Divine Name, YHWH. The six-pointed star, sometimes called the Creator’s Star, marks the six days of creation. This six-pointed star would be adopted much later as the symbol of Judaism, in the 200s AD. And at the pinnacle of the window, we can see the breastplate of the high priest Aaron, with its twelve precious gems in it, one gem for each tribe of Abraham’s descendants, worn by the high priest whenever he would serve at the altar in the tabernacle, reminding God’s people of the promise of forgiveness, of the Messiah, and of life.
So the promise to Abraham continued to shape God’s people, even centuries after Abraham’s death. With each passing generation, the promise was handed down to the next: there would be a descendant of Abraham, an heir, who would be the infinite source of blessing for all the families of the earth, who would bring the fullness of all that God had promised to Abraham and Israel, not just here in time or in a stretch of land in the Near East, but for all eternity.
The promise continued until the fullness of time. When everything had been arranged just so by the Lord’s hand working through history, the Descendant of Abraham, the Heir, was born in Bethlehem, within the boundaries of that inherited land. He was as unlikely a Child to be born as Abraham’s son Isaac was. This Heir was not born to an aged father and mother though. He was born to a woman that had never been with a man. And this Heir would make even greater claims than that. He spoke of His ancestor Abraham, who had lived millennia before, as if He had known him personally. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day,” He said, “Abraham saw it and was glad.” This Descendant’s detractors scoffed. “You’re not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Then Jesus, the Heir replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus, the Descendant of Abraham, claimed to predate Abraham. And in doing so, He also took for Himself the divine name, I AM, YHWH, the name depicted by the Hebrew letter in our window. It was a bold claim, this man, this Descendant, to claim to be the source, the Creator, the all-powerful Lord who called Abraham. Yet Jesus didn’t flinch or stutter. He was God in human flesh. He was the Lord.
Some rejected Him. Some even picked up stones to throw at Him and kill Him for such a claim. Others did not. And for those who didn’t reject Him, for those who trusted Him like their ancestor Abraham trusted Him, He led them to a greater homeland, a heavenly one, through the gates of death and the grave, to their own promised eternal inheritance.
Much like Abraham, much like his son Isaac, much like their descendants, we have our lives shaped by a promise. A promise has been made and fulfilled in Jesus. This promise of One who will be a source of blessing for all the families of the earth, who will bind all the peoples of the earth together into His own holy, Christian, and apostolic family, the Church—this promise shapes our lives. It most certainly shapes this time of the year. Everything in our lives now is leaning forward, even tripping over, into Christmas, when we recognize the birth of this Heir and Descendant, Jesus. This time of year, built on observing this promise, has a way of shaping our every waking moment right now, from music to activities to meals and parties and general hecticness. But even if we strip away all that busyness that comes from the shape of this time of the year—and I for one think we should strip a lot of it away—even then, without all those things, our lives would still be shaped by the promise given to Abraham, the promise of Advent. The Savior has come to walk this pilgrimage with us. He’s come to get His feet dusty and wear out His shoes with us. He’s come to lead us to a better homeland, an eternal, heavenly one.
But even more than for just a season, our entire lives are shaped by this promise, like Abraham’s entire life was. So whenever you get the chance, even tonight after the service, or on Sunday, when the light streams through the colored glass in this sanctuary, really stop to meditate on this promise. Be there in the pilgrimage with your forefather in the faith. Look for details you didn’t see or understand before. Rejoice in the promise of the Child who shapes this season. Rejoice in the promise of an eternal homeland—something you look forward to in such a way that it shapes your actions here as you move toward it. See what Abraham longed to see and rejoice with him. See that Jesus, who is I AM, has come and is coming back, to be the fulfillment of all that our fathers in the faith have hoped for—and all that we have hoped for. In the name of Jesus, who is God with us. Amen.