This past spring when my friend Stephen Gause (record producer, songwriter, and one of the kindest men I’ve ever known) invited me to work with him to turn Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative into an audiobook, I jumped at the offer because I wrote the book to be read aloud. Much of my own editing during the writing process came from reading what I had written aloud. If it sounded like writing, I rewrote it. I wanted this book to be something people could read to each other because beautiful are the feet and voices of those who bring good news. There’s something rich and lovely about one person telling the story of the coming of Christ to another.
The story reaches so far back. Back before Father Abraham had any sons, the God of the universe made him a promise. He would be the father of a great nation, and through him all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. One night God brought him outside his tent in the desert and said, “Look toward heaven. Count the stars if you’re able. So shall your offspring be.” (Gen 15:5)
I grew up hearing stories like this. But something came alive for me when one night in college I found myself in the Middle East not too far from Abraham’s desert, lying on my back, staring up at that same starry sky. In the desert, the night is a magnificent thing to behold. The Lord silenced me with his glory.
I thought about this oath God made to Abraham. Here was a man who for his entire life had been unable to have children with his wife, though God’s promise to him was all about descendants. I thought about how hard this would have been to accept, how improbable was the math. And then I pictured Abraham stepping out beneath the brilliant canopy of stars flung across the heavens, and I imagined the Lord silencing his doubt with the same glory he was now using to silence me.
What a mercy that must’ve been to Abraham, for God to meet him in his doubt with this display of glory. Though Abraham couldn’t begin to count the stars above, his life was in the hands of the one who made them.
Every story God tells is filled with glory. Like Abraham beneath the stars, I want to see it. I want to be captured by the wonder of impossible promises coming true. I want to read the pages of Scripture with my eyes open to the beauty of mercy and grace.
I want this for you as well.
One of my highest hopes for this book is that it will deepen your understanding of the wonder and glory of the story of the Bible. As a pastor, biblical literacy is one of the most important goals of my work. I want people to know what the Bible says.
The challenge this book presented was this: how do I tell the arc of the story of God’s redemptive purpose in sending his son in a way that’s faithful to the text of Scripture, knowing I must abridge or omit many wonderful and important moments? This puzzle took me through the process of embracing what this book is and what it is not.
First, let me tell you what this book is not. It is not complete. My focus is specifically to tell the story of the need for and the coming of Christ, so I’ve left a lot of Scripture untouched.
Second, this book is not a substitute for the Bible itself. In Deuteronomy, the Lord instructs his people to tell their children about him continually—when they’re tucking them in at night, when they’re walking down the road, when they’re sitting down to eat. (Deut 6:4-9) They were to have the stories of Scripture posted everywhere—on their doorposts, wrapped around their arms, emblazoned on their foreheads. There was the text of Scripture—the Law of Moses—and then there were the stories people told about it, those “did you hear the one about” moments. This book is a collection of those moments.
Last, this book is not exclusively a Christmas book. We haven’t told the Christmas story well if we’ve limited its relevance to one month of the year or its scope to a few chapters from the Gospels. This book is designed to guide readers through a contemplative season of Advent—twenty-five chapters, one for each day of December—taking the reader or listener from Eden to the manger outside Bethlehem. I hope that taking twenty-five days in June or a weekend in October to read it would prove just as meaningful.
Now I want to tell you what this book is.
First, it is meant to be a servant of the Bible. I’ve packed the print version of the book with hundreds of scripture references. Since I paraphrase pretty freely throughout in order to maintain a unified voice, those references are there to lead readers to the truer, taller tale Scripture unfolds with perfect sufficiency. As much as I was able, I infused my prose with allusions to the phrases and imagery of the Biblical text.
Second, this book is my story. Every measure of brokenness reflected in these pages is in some measure the story of my brokenness. Every need that rises to the surface is in some way a need of mine. Every tendency toward rebellion, every cry of desperation, every prayer for forgiveness and every hope of redemption rings true in me. In Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, I’m telling the story of how God loved and rescued me. I believe Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away my sin, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Here’s a sample from Chapter 1.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).