On a warm September day in 1972, a letter arrived at the home of Charles and Delores Thompson. Delores trembled as she held the letter. Charles could hear the fear in her voice as she called him into the room. It had been two weeks since they had heard from their son Nathaniel. He had disappeared while enjoying a night out with friends.
Nathaniel was the Thompsons’ first-born son and a bit of a rebel. His hard partying ways, and unpredictable behavior had led Charles to give up on his dream of seeing Nathaniel one day run the family business.
Opening the letter, the Thompsons found a ransom note with detailed instructions to follow if they ever wanted to see Nathaniel alive again. The kidnappers demanded three million dollars, to be placed in a duffel bag and stored in a locker at a nearby bus station.
Delores wept as she read the note. Charles was filled with anger. He had worked long and hard for his fortune. He would not see it given away to criminals in the slim hope that his wayward son might return home.
In the days that followed, the kidnappers watched the bus station, waiting for the Thompsons to submit to their demands. But the deadline came and went, and Nathaniel’s fate was sealed.1
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden the curse of death took humankind captive. The Scriptures tell us that Adam and Eve were terrified. They hid from God. They did not hide from Satan, or from each other. They hid from God, because it was God who said, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV). The verdict was in: All of humankind found guilty, unable to pay its debt, and unworthy to inherit the kingdom of God.
When our heavenly Father, by the power of his Holy Spirit, placed his Son in the womb of a young virgin, it was the greatest ransom drop of all time. Our heavenly Father followed his word fully and completely, placing his priceless Son in a fragile jar of clay to take on flesh and to suffer and die for the sins of humanity.
The first Christmas marked the birth of Jesus, the One who came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He obeyed the law of God perfectly and presented himself as a spotless sacrifice. Death could not resist! It came to claim him, but it could not hold him. His blood far exceeded the debt that was owed, thus breaking the curse that held us captive.
Though we deserved to be disowned, God did not abandon us. Instead he pursued us. He came looking for us! As he called out to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, so he calls out to us today. Do you hear him?
Our heavenly Father has paid the ransom. Return to him, and you will share in the inheritance of the One who is worthy!
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as publisher of Faith & Fellowship magazine.
1Illustration inspired by a true story; names and details changed, as assumptions were made about the family’s motives.