One day when my friend Heidi’s son Nicholas was just two years old, he was playing in the next room with his baby sister. Suddenly little Theresa started to cry. Their grandfather called out to Nicholas, “Nicholas, are you hurting your sister?”
An honest little voice piped back, “Not yet…!”
Even at two, Nicholas understood that there was a measure of inevitability in the words “not yet.”
And yet so often as adults, when God seems to say, “not yet,” we translate that as “no” and throw toddler-like tantrums of despair. We take for granted the inevitability of bad things, but waver when it comes to good things. As the pandemic of fear spreads across the country and doomsday predictions increase, we are invited to remember the inevitability of God’s goodness, the fulfillment of all His promises.
In today’s First Reading, Abram is shown the Promised Land, but is invited to take up residence in a land of Not Yet.
He is told that he will be the father of many nations (this is repeated, multiple times), but at the moment he is the father of none, not even of one son. In fact, he will have to wait twenty-six years for Isaac! He is shown a land that will be the permanent possession of his descendants, but it is the land of Canaan. He is told that an everlasting blessing will come through him, but his life in the subsequent chapters of Genesis doesn’t show, externally, a lot of blessing. This blessing will come after hundreds of years, in Jesus.
The New Testament speaks of Abraham as “our father in faith.” Faith, Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the substance of things unseen.”
Abraham is our father in faith because he moves through a land of promises; he lives with trust in the One who makes, and keeps, His Promises.
Abraham does not do this perfectly. In fact, after some years, he seems to doubt God’s timing, when the promised son has not materialized. He tries to speed up the promise by conceiving a child, not with his wife, but with her servant Hagar.
But even so God renews His covenant with Abraham, renews His promise for a son. Isaac is the son born of Sarah, although both she and Abraham are advanced in years.
And then God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
We cannot imagine what was going on in the heart of Abraham at that moment. What kind of a father would comply with such a command? Only one who knew the heart of his Father. He knew that God was good, that He would in some way bring good from whatever might look like disaster.
God blessed Abraham’s trust in His heart. He revealed for all time that it was not in fact His desire that we sacrifice the blood of other humans to show our love for Him. Indeed, in Jesus He would sacrifice His own blood to show His love for us.
Hebrews 11 continues:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, without knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the promised land as a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11: 8-10)
Abraham lives in the Promised Land before it is realized externally. He is able to do this because he lives in the heart of God, lives in trust of the Promise.
This living in the land of promise, the land of Not Yet, will continue for the descendants of Abraham for centuries. Much of the Old Testament involves the seeking of this land, fighting for it, claiming it, only to be exiled from it, to return, only to be exiled again, to return, only to be living under foreign occupation.
When Jesus comes, the people are living in the Promised Land, but they are under enemy occupation. They expect the Messiah to free them.
Instead He shows them that He is the Promised Land. We know Jesus is the only Son, we know He is the descendant through which everlasting blessing will come. Do we also realize that He is the Promised Land?
This promised land is more than a real estate acquisition. It, He, is the place of providence and protection, the place for God’s family to live together in love.