Rooting Seasonal Nostalgia in Theological Truth

Understanding “Christ our Redeemer” in the Context of Biblical History

As the holidays draw near, we all find ourselves, perhaps automatically at times, carrying out seasonal traditions, old and new. To the more traditional practices of trimming the tree, sending cards, attending family gatherings, and baking holiday cookies, the recent advent of streaming services has added the binging of many Christmas-themed movies, with the most favored involving a leitmotif of redemption.

Redemption in our Modern Context

Who cannot help but rejoice at the transformation of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, when he comes to terms with his own mortality and loneliness in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol?  Jim Carrey’s characterization of a long-disgruntled resident of Whoville whose heart grows two sizes at the recognition that, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store; perhaps it means a little bit more,” is enigmatically poignant in Ron Howard’s production of Dr. Seuss’s classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Even the more lighthearted movie Elf casts a theme of redemption, as Buddy the Elf’s biological father Walter Hobbs is metamorphosed from an overly ambitious publishing executive (only too happy to repossess a set of children’s books from a nun) to a caring father.

Both the writers of long ago and movie producers in the present recognize that when it comes to Christmas lore, the theme of redemption “sells.” These movies and stories allow us to wax nostalgic and wistfully recall the heralded refrain of “peace on earth, good will toward men” and anticipate the hope of redemption in one form or another.

The Christian should readily intuit this focus on redemption, as Christmas is about Christ, and Christ is our Redeemer. But we best not wax with uninformed nostalgia and wistful bliss when it comes to the characterization of Christ. Sentimentality and nostalgia as hermeneutical devices – the interpretive keys by which we understand Scripture – can cloud our ability to fully understand the biblical conception of redemption and what it means for us.

Redemption in the Old Testament Context

Christ’s title as Redeemer has significant impact when viewed through the lens of the world from which he emerged, the context we see established in the Old Testament. Theologian Sandra Richter reminds us that in reading Scripture, “we find that the God of history has chosen to reveal himself through a specific human culture,” namely Israel.[1] In doing so, God was not necessarily canonizing their culture, but rather “he simply used that culture as a vehicle through which to communicate the eternal truth of his character and his will for humanity.”[2]

Case in point: in the Old Testament, the concept of redemption was manifest in the laws and mores of Israel’s patriarchal and tribal culture.[3] It was the task of a patriarch (Abraham and Hosea, for example) to risk his own resources and property whenever “ransoming” a family member. The family member may need redemption for many reasons: perhaps she succumbed to the consequences of a faithless life, as was the case with Hosea’s immoral wife Gomer. Abram’s (Abraham’s) nephew Lot needed rescuing when a contingent of Mesopotamian kings invaded the urban centers of Sodom and Gomorrah and took his family and him captive. As the patriarch of the family, it was Abram’s responsibility to put the members of his household (318 trained men), his own resources, and his life on the line in order to rescue his deceased brother’s son.[4]

The story of Old Testament redemption is particularly poignant in the book of Ruth. The widowed Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi find themselves on the margins of society because their husbands have died. This situation was particularly grim for Naomi, since not only had her husband died, but both her sons were deceased, and she had no grandsons to take care of her. Ruth’s dedication to Naomi – at certain peril to her own well-being and future – caught the attention of a wealthy and honorable landowner named Boaz, who took Ruth to be his wife, acting as a “kinsman-redeemer” and thus making provision for Naomi as well.

But few perhaps understand what this cost Boaz as the redeemer, and why this narrative is such a powerful Old Testament prefiguring of Christ. Hebrew customs required that, in order for Boaz to marry Ruth, he had to abide by the tribal law of redemption. This meant he had to buy back the patrimony of Ruth’s deceased husband, according to the inalienable land law of Leviticus 25, and father a child in her deceased husband’s name to continue the deceased’s lineage. In his integrity, Boaz fulfilled all of these obligations for redemption.

In more general terms, then, the tribal law of redemption demanded that any redeemer-patriarch not only resolve the debts of the redeemed but also protect their legal rights – always at a cost to the redeemer himself, as Boaz faithfully demonstrated. Boaz’s redemption of Ruth, his sacrifice to purchase her, to rescue her from the conditions of privation and poverty, at great personal expense, far surpasses many contemporary stories of redemption.

Celebrating the Redeemer’s Birth

The New Testament opens with the genealogy of the ultimate Redeemer, whom Boaz prefigured and who was also one of Boaz’s descendants, as Boaz was the great-grandfather of King David, of whose lineage the promised Messiah would descend.

The metaphor of redemption in the Old Testament, then, has great significance as it is played out in the plan of God, and especially as manifest in the life and work of Christ. God, in presenting himself as our Patriarch, revealed his intent to redeem us by agreeing to pay whatever ransom was required. This ransom for sin would require nothing less than the perfect sacrifice of his own Son.

We, like Ruth and Gomer, found ourselves on the margins of society, outside the protection of a patriarch’s household, and in need of redemption. We similarly were unable and ill-equipped to gain the access lost because of unfortunate life circumstances; in our case those circumstances involved being born in Adam, and in debt to sin. At great cost to Himself, Christ our Redeemer not only resolved our debts, but legally represents us, advocating for us before his Father, as our great and merciful High Priest.

The Old Testament context of redemption confers much more significance on the title of Christ our Redeemer. Hopefully, with a better understanding of the fuller biblical context, we can shed any blinders unwittingly generated by popular Christmas lore, blinders which could undermine our own appreciation of that humble birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. In our nostalgia, may we be wistfully and worshipfully mindful of the price of our purchase.


[1] Richter, Sandra L. The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. InterVarsity Press, 2010, 23.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 40-42.

[4] Ibid., 43

graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno, with a BS in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics - having published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and projects in scanning tunneling microscopy. Having recently completed an M.Ed. from University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, Emily is currently an instructional designer/content developer for Moody Bible Institute and teaches organic chemistry and physics. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily now regards the intelligent design arguments more credible than those proffered by Darwinists for explaining the origin of life.

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