An edited version of my next church magazine article:
Promise: “when you say that you will certainly do or not do something”
The side of the Business Express lorry I recently noticed along the Hagley Road was decorated with the words ‘A promise means nothing until it’s delivered’. The Business Express website claims that its drivers deliver 65 million parcels a year to homes throughout the U.K, always in perfect condition. It set my mind thinking about promises.
From a young age we make promises. A child promises to finish their dinner or tidy up toys. A parent promises more time to play with their kids. Bride and Groom make wedding vows for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. Businesses become more environmentally friendly and promise to reduce their carbon footprint. Politicians say they will certainly deliver on their election manifestos. Royal Mail offer ways of guaranteeing next day delivery of your urgent or valuable item. Baptismal candidates promise to turn away from sin and follow Christ. Life is punctuated with all sorts of promises. Some are kept faithfully, others are broken and quickly forgotten. Sooner or later in life we learn that the breaking of some promises has greater consequences than others.
From start to finish the Bible tells the story of God’s promise of love. His promise progressively unfolds from Old to New Testament. Often the language used to describe his promise of love is expressed in words like seed, covenant, pledge, dynasty, inheritance and heir.
The Christmas hymn Christians, awake! Salute the happy morn includes the lines ‘this day has God fulfilled his promised word, this day is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord’. Christmas reminds us that God has kept his promise of love to the world especially by sending Jesus, a flesh and blood incarnation, to die for our sins, be raised to new life and restore us to God . The apostle Paul once said “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32).
The sceptic may respond by saying that events in Bethlehem two thousand or so years ago have little bearing on our world today and that today’s evils such as racism and terrorism indicate that God has lost the plot or forgotten his promises of old. But the New Testament clearly says that a battle ensues (e.g. Ephesians 6:10-18) and that creation still awaits its liberation from all that frustrates God’s purposes (e.g. Romans 8:18-27). Therefore we can still confidently trust that by sending Jesus God has come close to us, pointed us towards a new day when there will be no more pain, suffering or death, and certainly acted on his promise of love.
Perhaps the best word to sum up God’s promise of love is the word covenant. God’s covenant to us is his loving relationship graciously personified by Christ. Some churches hold a Covenant Service each January as a promise of allegiance to God’s covenant and to renew their commitment to Christ and to their church family. Covenant Services also provide a very good opportunity to encourage people to seriously consider baptism and membership. A promise means nothing until it’s delivered.