I remember the year I spoiled Christmas. For me, anyway.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was. All I know is I was old enough to be able to think like a grown-up and figure out the likely hiding places for presents. I don’t know if I just couldn’t wait or if I was trying to prove to myself how clever I was. In either case, I looked under my mom and dad’s bed a few days before Christmas arrived. Bingo.
So with a few days left before Christmas morning would arrive, I had discovered what I would be receiving. I couldn’t share my excitement or joy with anyone without incriminating myself. I couldn’t play with or even open any of the presents. I just had to wait and then pretend to be surprised on Christmas morning. Opening the presents became anti-climatic. Christmas was spoiled. Curiosity, as they say, killed the cat.
With the greatest Christmas gift ever given – the gift of Emmanuel, God with us – the surprise was not so much the gift as the timing. People had an idea of what the gift would be. What they didn’t know was when or how it would arrive.
So the surprise for the first few who heard the glad tidings of great joy was that the One they had been waiting for had come.
As we know, most Jews had a skewed view of the Messiah’s ministry. God had promised a King whose rule and reign would be everlasting. Not surprisingly, they expected a great political and military leader would emerge who would restore the nation of Israel to a position of geopolitical prominence and that Israel would be the new leading world power from that time forward. For them, that’s what “rule and reign forever” meant.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the idea that this new King would himself be eternal was not even considered. How would that even be possible?
But throughout the history of Israel, God had gradually begun to unwrap the portrait of the coming Messiah. From the very beginning, God had said He would send one who would destroy the power and work of the evil one.
Moses told God’s people to expect a prophet who would speak and reveal God’s purposes and His will the same way that Moses had done it (Deut. 18:15,18). And in John 7, when Jesus said “if anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink,” the people said “This really is the Prophet. No one ever spoke like this man.”
Daniel said that the Messiah would be one “like a son of man.” That’s the way Jesus referred to Himself over and over again.
Isaiah said that God’s people should be on the lookout for one who would bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and who would open the prison to those who are bound (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus would one day read that passage and declare that He was the fulfillment of that promise.
The ways in which Jesus’ life and ministry (including His death and resurrection) paralleled these Old Testament descriptions of the Messiah are well documented. God spent centuries unwrapping the gift He would be giving to His people. He wanted them to know what to be expecting, what to be looking for.
Like police officers who have an all-points bulletin with a description of their suspect, God’s people should have known that Jesus was the gift God had been promising them.
Some did. John the Baptist knew. So did Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother who said: “We have found the Messiah.” The Samaritan woman we’ve been reading about understood who Jesus was as soon as He told her the first time He met her everything she’d ever done.
But before we’re too hard on those who didn’t see the signs when they read the writings of the prophets, we have to remember that recognizing and receiving God’s gift isn’t about deciphering clues and drawing the right conclusion. As the Apostle Paul would later explain to the Corinthians “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit… no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10–11).
The Old Testament picture of the coming Messiah is available for all to see and believe. But it takes a work of God’s Spirit in a person’s life before it will ever dawn on someone that Jesus is the gift God promised for centuries.
That’s why we pray for our friends and family members who don’t know Christ. We ask God first to humble them because we know God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. And we ask God to give people ears to hear. To open blind eyes. To bring light to darkened minds and hearts.
Unlike my parents, who were purposefully and intentionally hiding my Christmas gifts so that I wouldn’t know what I was getting until Christmas morning, God spent centuries describing the gift. May He use us as instruments to bring light and life to many during this Christmas season.
One way to share the hope and joy of this season with friends and family members is to invite them to join you for our candlelight and carols service on Christmas Eve. Have you thought about who you might invite this year?
Here again, are the details.
As we get ready for the new year, it’s time to think about signing up to spend a Sunday or two during the first three months of 2020 taking care of our babies in the nursery on Sunday morning. Some of you have already received a note from Christa Brown about helping out in the nursery. If you have questions about serving or if you’re ready to sign up, send Christa an email and let her know: email@example.com
Once again, here’s what we have planned for the first few months of 2020 at Redeemer:
There’s a pretty big event happening in Little Rock next month. And if you have a few hours to spare and would like to encourage and help mentor some really amazing young people, there are opportunities to serve.
The event is the Arkansas Diamond Speech and Debate Tournament. Nearly 300 students from across the Midwest will be coming here to participate. All the details are available online here, or you can download a flyer here that has information about how you can serve as a volunteer. And if you have questions, talk to Deb Riedy at church!
It’s an old and familiar story. But it’s still good to revisit the details from time to time. So we’ll dive into Luke 2 this Sunday to hear about the census, the stable, the shepherds and the angels. It’s the greatest birth announcement ever!
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!