4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV)
What do you think of when you think of Christmas? What words and images most readily spring to your mind? Chances are, our answers to these questions are as numerous and unique as we are. But if you’re anything like me- and in this instance, at least, I’m guessing you are– for as long as you can remember, the Christmas season has been a season of unparalleled expectation.
Starting as young children, we spend our December days and nights counting down the days until we experience all the season has to offer.
We look forward with expectation to gathering with family and friends (even the crazy ones!).
We look forward with expectation to great food, festive music, and bright lights and decorations.
We look forward with expectation to revisiting holiday traditions and making new memories too.
We look forward with expectation to unwrapping the gifts that tease us from underneath the tree.
If we trace Christmas back to its biblical origins, what we’ll find is that all this expecting isn’t anything new, but is instead incredibly appropriate to the season. Indeed, the years- the centuries– that preceded that very first Christmas were defined by expectations of cosmic proportions.
The Christmas story, as told by Gospel writers Matthew and Luke, is embedded in the larger story of God’s relationship with His people, and specifically His plan to rescue His beloved creation from the devastating impacts of sin. This plan, designed in intricate detail before the creation of the world, began in earnest in Genesis 12 when God called an unlikely man named Abram to leave that he knew to set out on a journey of faith with Him. From this one man, God would create a family, the nation of Israel, through which He would reveal Himself to the whole world and save us from sin.
The remainder of the Bible’s Old Testament tells the story of God’s relationship with Israel- and to say that it is a rocky one would be quite the understatement! Time and again, God’s people rebel against Him, running headlong into idolatry and injustice. Time and again, God judges His people’s disobedience. Time and again, God’s people repent, and are restored to right fellowship with God.
The cycle continues for centuries, but through it all, God remains steadfast in His promise to raise up- from this unlikely people- a triumphant Deliverer who would deal with the world’s sin problem once and for all and establish a Kingdom of righteousness forever. This Deliverer, of course, is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, God’s Chosen One to save the world. The degree of detail included in the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, Micah, and others regarding His arrival is truly stunning.
But approximately 400 years prior to the birth of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 2, a strange thing happens- God goes silent. No more prophets. No more promises. God’s people are left to wonder- Has God forgotten us? Has He changed His mind? Has He forsaken His promises? It became a time of looking, longing, and wondering. The first verse of one of my favorite Christmas hymns, written by Charles Wesley, describes the situation powerfully…
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
What is amazing about these words is that over 2,000 years later from the time they describe, they are still as relevant as ever. Consider- Do you need to be “set free…released” from your “fears and sins” today? Does your heart long for “rest…strength…consolation…and hope” amidst the turmoil of life? While the details may differ, the answer for all of us is, unequivocally, yes! Our desperation for God to reach down and rescue is what makes the story of Christmas such incredible good news for all of us.
So beneath the surface of lights, music, gifts, and gatherings, let me ask you today- What are you expecting from God this Christmas? What do you long for Him to accomplish in your heart, mind, and body, in your family and other relationships, in our church, community, and world? What marks your cries and prayers not only in this season, but beyond it too? Consider the poignant words of Charles Wesley’s second verse…
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
“Born to deliver…born to reign…bring thy Kingdom…raise us to thy throne.” Hear this well today- Jesus of Nazareth is God’s answer to your expectations this Christmas. He alone not only provides, but actually embodies, the satisfaction of your deepest longings. He is joy in your sorrows, peace in your chaos, hope in your despair, restoration in your brokenness. Just as He was for the Jews in the 1st century, He is ultimately what you’re looking and longing for this holiday season.
This Sunday at Fellowship Church, we begin our Christmas series, Heaven Came Down. For the next four weeks, we will exploring Christmas from the perspective of heaven. As we do, let me encourage you in two ways- One, consider how God’s gift of Jesus provides the answer to your expectations, whatever those might be this year. Make the words of this tremendous hymn recorded above a personal expression of petition and worship.
Two, consider how you might, during this season, be a bringer of Jesus to others in your life who are overrun by desperation of all different flavors. Even a quick survey of the situation surrounding us in our nation and world today serves as a reminder of the depth of sin’s ongoing devastation. Make the most of this prime season to share hope by speaking Jesus, and as you do, expect that God can use you to impact others in ways far deeper and more profound than a $20 gift under the tree ever can.
What are you expecting this Christmas? I pray that through Jesus Christ, God’s promised Rescuer, you find it and share it with the world.