Long before Black Friday and Cyber Mondays, Amazon and Walmart, there was the Sears Wishbook. Do you remember the old Sears Christmas catalog that would come out every October and you would look at page after page of all the things you might want for Christmas? You would fold down the corners and circle the things you wanted, hoping mom and dad would get the hint?
Can you remember being six years old on Christmas eve? You went to bed early, hoping the night would pass quickly so you could get up on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left under the tree for you. And how excited you were when the very thing you had asked and hoped and dreamed of for the last two months was there?
The birth of Jesus was the best prepared for event in the history of the world. Not that it would have looked that way if we had been standing in the middle of it all: An unexpected pregnancy to an unmarried Jewish teenage girl. The very mention of it invited rumor and gossip. The birth of this child, not at home in comfortable surroundings, but miles away in a stable surrounded by animals and pungent with the smell of manure. This wasn’t a royal birth, heralded by trumpets and fanfare, but a baby born to a poor working class Jewish couple far away from the seat of government and power. Everything about this birth looked haphazard and unarranged and chancy. But it was the working out of a divine plan.
Long before Mary gave birth to her baby, God had been preparing for the event in countless ways. Far from being haphazard, God’s plan was precise and calculated. Nothing was left to chance, every detail was mapped out with exacting purpose.
Long before God spoke the world into creation, long before man was created in the image of God, long before he committed that first sin in the garden and separated himself from God by his disobedience, God knew that he would send his son as his redeemer.
The apostle Peter writes: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:20)
The apostle Paul says that when Christ came, it was at the precise moment that God had chosen: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)
The birth was not without warning – not without the foretelling of his arrival. No sooner had Adam and Eve sinned than God rebuked and passed judgment upon Satan: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) And in so doing, he anticipated the day he would send his son to redeem this fallen people. God later announced that he would send this promised redeemer through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He promised that “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” (Gen. 49:10) Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:14)
Of that child, he prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isa. 9:6-7)
The prophet Micah foretold his birthplace, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
Many other scriptures foretell aspects of his life, suffering, death, and salvation, but isn’t it awesome that even of his coming and birth, the scriptures are so specific and give so much detail? I wonder, though, when the moment actually came – when God said, “It is time” – what was it like?
We’ve all experienced emotional farewells – sending a son or daughter off to college; giving them away in marriage; a dear friend who is moving far away; a husband or fiancée going off to war.
You knew the time would come – the day on the calendar was marked with red ink, the boxes were packed, the trailer was loaded, promises were made to call and write and visit often. But in that moment when you finally let go for the last time and you knew it would never be the same.
What was it like for the Father to send his Son, his only Son? Not just on a vacation, or a temporary business trip, but to send his Son to earth, packing him into a human body, entrusting him to a teenage girl to give birth to him, to care for him and raise him. Knowing that he would be rejected, hated, beaten and spit upon, and finally nailed to a cross to die in excruciating pain. Knowing that when that moment came, when your son had willingly done what you had sent him to do: taking all the sins of the world upon himself – the same world who would crucify him – that you would be forced by your own justice and holiness to turn away from him. Did God’s heart break when he heard his son cry out, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Leith Anderson describes a trip he made several years ago to Manila in the Philippines. He was taken, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump where he saw something he had never seen before. Tens of thousands of people make their homes on the dump in Manila. Shacks are constructed out of the things other people have thrown away, and their children are sent out early every morning to scavenge for food out of other people’s garbage, so they can feed their families. People have been born and grown up there on the garbage dump. They have had their families, their children, their shacks, their garbage to eat, finished out their lives, and died there without ever going any place else, even in the city of Manila. It is an astonishing thing. What caught his attention was that there are Americans who also live on the garbage dump. They are American missionaries, Christians who have chosen to leave this country and its comforts and go there to communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it or receive it. That is amazing to me – that people would leave everything they have to go live on a garbage dump to minister to people.
But isn’t that exactly what God did? He left the glory of heaven to come to earth and live as a human. It is not just the staggering heights of God’s majesty that display his grandeur, but how far he is willing to bend down that fully displays his glory.
John says, “The word became flesh.”
Paul writes, “He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil 2:6)
God walking around in a human body. Who would have believed it? They certainly didn’t.
They should have. This didn’t happen in a vacuum – God kept telling them the day was coming when he would send a Messiah. For centuries, they had just underneath the surface of their consciousness an expectation, an anticipation that God would send this Messiah. Every mother who bore a son would wonder, could this be the one?
They looked forward to a leader who would come and deliver them and unite Israel and Judah and make them strong again, a righteous judge who would restore the ancient faith, a messiah who would establish a new covenant between them and God. But John tells us, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11)
Anticipation is a funny kind of thing.
We wait and we wait, and then we’re surprised when it actually happens.
We long for things to be different, and then we bow up and resist when changes do take place.
We pray for God to rule in our lives and then we tell him to mind his own business when he makes demands.
Jesus was everything that God promised, but nothing of what they expected.
Are we much better?
They should have anticipated his first coming,
we are told to look for his second coming.
They rejected him when he told them to repent,
we ignore him when he tells us not to fall in love with this world.
They crucified him,
we trivialize him.
But Christ came the first time,
and he will come a second time.
Will we be ready?
Bob Russell tells a story about a house in his subdivision several years ago that kept their Christmas lights burning long after the season was past. They burned though January. Even through the first of February those outside lights burned every night. Finally, about the middle of February, he says, “I became a bit critical and thought, if I were too lazy to take my Christmas lights down, I think I’d at least turn them off at night.” But about the middle of March there was a sign outside of their house that explained why they’d left the lights on. It said simply, “Welcome home, Jimmy.” We learned that family had a son in Vietnam, and they had unashamedly left their Christmas lights on in anticipation of his return.
God leaves the lights on for us, in anticipation of our return.
This is a season of giving and receiving presents, family gatherings and celebrations, of busy schedules and closing out the end of the year. But in the midst of it all, don’t forget to leave room for a little anticipation – that six year old’s excitement over what God might have in store for you just around the corner, because even God loves a good surprise.
Posted on Sun, December 2, 2018
by John Roberts