I’m so glad the New Testament gives us a descriptive sketch of Jesus’ entrance into the world to save us from our sins. Between Matthew and Luke, we end up with a pretty good idea of the social and political setting of Christ’s coming to our world. The newly released movie about this event, The Nativity, helps to give one a pretty good sense of what it must have been like, embellisments not withstanding. No doubt the sense of Roman oppression depicted in the movie is pretty realistic. But I especially liked the way the movie portrayed Joseph and Mary. Of special significance is the way these two waited for God’s vindication of truth and justice in the midst of shame and rejection. Joseph was a man of great courage and grace. You can’t help but admire his love for Mary at the expense of his reputation.
One of the strongest themes in the Christmas story is the sense of suspense. So many aspects of the story reflect anticpation, waiting, patience. Mary waited for the right response of Joseph. Joseph waited for insight and wisdom as to what he should do about Mary. The shepherds were waiting for the fufillment of their dreams as they watched their sheep on the Bethlehem hillside. And the wiseman patiently followed the star for many days, probably months, as they waited to see the fulfillment of their study. All of Israel, in those days, was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” expressed so well be Simeon. In so many ways, the anticipation develops much as Mary’s pregnancy. And then suddenly, it all comes together — the birth of the baby, the announcement of the angels to the shepherds, the worship of the magi! “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, good will to men!”
One of the best parts of the Christmas celebration is the sense of anticipation portrayed so well in what has become known as “the Advent Season.” As I write these lines, we are in the midst of that anticipation. Preparations abound in community, family, and church. Children wait in anticipation for a break from school and for Christmas morning when they get to open their gifts. Adults wait for the time to be with family, to take a break from the normal routine of work, for food and the exchange of gifts.
Jesus’ coming is the fulfillment of thousands of years of anticipation which began even before the time of Abraham. It is hard to appreciate how often the people of Israel must have reminded one another that a time of deliverance would surely come. So the years went by; and often, no doubt, they grew discouraged with the waiting. “But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4, NIV).
And the waiting isn’t over! We continue to wait for His coming again as He promised. Sometimes so many things cloud the reality of that promise so that waiting is easily forgotten. It’s easy to forget about waiting and to become pre-occupied with the here and now, the world around us, our own “self-actualization.” Nevertheless, the clock keeps ticking on toward that day that He has appointed, when He will come for salvation and judgment.
So much of the Christian way is about waiting. It is of the nature of faith to be waiting for the fulfillment of His promises. Faith is waiting for it only sees the reality at a distance. But this waiting is not something passive; for as we wait we engage ourselves in the life and activity of faith, ever conscious of the fact that it will be even as He has told us (Acts 27:25).
And so it is for me. These are days of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises in my life. But it is not an empty waiting, for as I wait there are things to do, people to see, articles to write, sermons to prepare, questions to study, ministries to accomplish. So much of life is about waiting in faith for the will of the Lord to be accomplished. And so it is with Christmas. Much of Christmas is about waiting. But it also is about realizing the promise. That’s Christmas! Blessed Christmas!