On Sunday, our text for the day was Romans 8:18-25:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
This passage continues our theme because it’s about waiting (see vv. 19, 23, & 25) and in particular, it’s about waiting for Christ’s second arrival, when God’s glory will be revealed in full and the children of God will be revealed for who they really are.
In the meantime, we still live in a world that is a mere shadow of the way it is supposed to be. Paul doesn’t lay out that case in full, but instead makes allusions to the story of creation narrative in Genesis 1-3 and the liberation narrative in Exodus. He writes that creation was subjected to futility (as a consequence of human behavior) and longing to be set free from its bondage to decay.
It can be hard to believe that creation was subjected to futility and is yearning to be set free. As presented in the sermon, we know that parts of creation are stamped with God’s fingerprint and are glorious to no end:
And of course, this is why Paul says that human beings are ultimately “without excuse” … because “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1:20)
Yet, creation has a dark side, a side that reveals that reveals that it is not as God designed it or as God ultimately intends for it to be. We see how it is writhing and destructive and prone to decay:
The people of the ancient world would have been even more keen to these realities because they didn’t have the technology that now keeps us (somewhat) more protected from them.
The point is: Creation can sometimes feel like—and be—a wild animal. It looks like a lot more like ravaging destruction instead of a peaceful Eden. What about that promise of the wolf and the lamb hanging out together in harmony?!?
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
Yes, Paul writes, it is still true! And this is precisely why creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. Creation desperately wants to see something birthed! And at one point, some 2000 years ago, the day of the Lord did come. Christ Jesus, long expected and longed for, did come as a newborn child. As we look ahead, there is hope for him to come again. The creation groans like that … knowing that the labor pains will end in a glorious birth—new heavens and new earth!
In the meantime, Paul writes, we are just like creation: we too “groan inwardly while we wait.”
Do you give yourself permission to groan??
Sometimes, in Christian circles, there’s a lot of pressure to keep anything ‘negative’ at arm’s length. Sometimes, that attitude can be profoundly unbiblical. It is okay to groan. To groan is not to whine or to be ungrateful … it is to long.
That’s what Advent is all about … it’s about longing (eager longing) for the time when we ourselves will be fully and finally redeemed and the weary world will be made new. We groan and sigh because we experience the tension between the glorious promises and the present reality. We have, as Paul says in verse 23, the “first fruits” of the spirits life within us, but also know there is a great crop yet to come.
As you wait, what will help you embrace the tension between glorious promises and present reality?
What will help you feel permission to groan?
How can you groan today?