When our kids were at primary school, we were fortunate that there was a playground directly opposite their school. Most days, within thirty seconds of the bell, they would career out (with Alise or myself trailing in their wake) and find their way within a couple of minutes to the swings or the slide, along with most of their friends. I do still remember the time, though, that our son Isaac got lost. It’s not a big park and the sightlines are good throughout, but those of you who’ve been parents will know how it is – you look away for a moment, and….
For several minutes we got increasingly frantic, circling round the park: ‘Where are you?’ We were just starting to feel sick with anxiety when Isaac’s head popped out of the hedge. He and friend had found a small gap and crawled through, playing some sort of ‘hide and seek’ game. He was never more than twenty yards away the whole time – and we could breathe again!
‘Where are you?’ Possibly the most heart-rending cry in all Scripture (v9). The Lord is walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and longs to spend time with his best friends. But they are hiding – only this time not in joyful play, but in shame. They have disobeyed God and now the brutal reality has dawned: the serpent has lied to them, and paradise is lost. Indeed, you could argue that God’s cry in this passage is the divine cry to humanity throughout history – a loving Father calling to his hiding children, longing for them to return home.
The story of Advent does not start on page 1 of the New Testament, at Matthew chapter 1; or at the great prophecies of Micah 5, or even Isaiah 7. It starts here, in Genesis 3, on the third page of the bible. The first reading at a traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols is this passage, and rightly so. It is here that humanity first begins to need a rescuer. It may be many thousands of years before the quest begins in earnest – but this is where it starts.
And in this chapter which, in many ways, is the most chilling of all Scripture, God also gives us a hint, a clue, a little jewel in the dust which enables us to dare to dream. Although judgement is pronounced, God tells the serpent that one day a human being would come – ‘seed of the woman’ – who would crush his head. In crushing the serpent’s head (once and for all) he would suffer – his heel would be bruised, to use the language of the text – but he would prevail.
The rest of Scripture could be titled ‘The Search for the Serpent Crusher.’ As we prepare for the start of Advent, we fix our attention again in earnest on this search, the greatest of all quests. When would the Serpent Crusher come? What would he do? How would he do it? Praise God, we know the answers to those questions – but may these glorious answers lift our hearts afresh with renewed joy, increased peace and flourishing hope. Thanks to the Serpent Crusher, the Lord no longer needs to call out to us: Where are you?’ By his grace, we have been found by him.