One of the joys of participating in Operation Christmas Child’s shoebox collection comes from knowing that this little box brings such great joy to the children around the world who will receive them. If you have had the chance to see one of the video clips that Samaritan’s Purse makes available* your heart tingles as kids are made so happy. And you get a sense of their anticipation as they are gathered together by pastors and teachers so those shoeboxes can be handed out—some have shy smiles and hardly look up at the camera while others can’t sit still and are jumping up and down in excitement. Do you remember how excited you were for Christmas? Did you ever have trouble falling asleep on Christmas Eve in eager anticipation? Perhaps as you’ve gotten older your anticipation level has, shall we say, leveled off.
One of the fascinating aspects of the Bible’s Christmas story is the interplay between God surprising people with announcements and miracle births (all those times the angel has to say “Do not fear” before getting to the good news) and the palpable sense of anticipation based on what God has promised.
A diminished sense of anticipation seems to have been the norm for most of God’s people as the New Testament opens. Luke’s gospel account indicates that Zechariah wasn’t expecting an angel to appear when he went in to perform his priestly duties that day. In fact, he questioned the heavenly messenger as if the angel Gabriel lacked credibility! And there is no indication that the shepherds in their fields that night were wide awake watching for anything other than normal nightly dangers. They certainly weren’t expecting a heavenly chorus to break the silence!
And yet. As God speaks, as people listen, as promises are remembered, there is a great sense of wonder and anticipation! Think of Mary hurrying to see her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s exclamation when the baby inside her leaped for joy! Read again the songs of Mary and Zechariah and recall the response of those shepherds when they found Mary and Joseph and the baby.
Please pause for five minutes and examine your anticipation this Christmas.
Christians have God’s Word and promises; we have a record of God acting and the story of His Son and salvation. We celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God, the birth of Jesus. And we remember that He has promised to return! Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, but also should be a time to examine our hearts to see if we’re prepared for Jesus’ second coming.
Sometimes we are distracted by the loud noises and bright lights of the world around us from truly anticipating what God has promised to do; or maybe we are tempted to forget all that God has already done because of the droning, monotonous hum of our everyday, ordinary, consuming, mundane daily schedule. Let’s stop and find a quiet moment and ask ourselves some questions about our anticipation this year.
Dust off your thinking cap and let’s use the 5 W’s!
Who are you anticipating this Christmas? We ought to anticipate seeing family and celebrating with loved ones this Christmas, but is there a real recognition that the One who is the reason for the celebration is a living Person? Is there a sense of excitement that He is present with us as we worship as well as when we’re gathered around the table or tree opening presents that should remind us of the greatest gift of all? And is there a tangible sense of anticipation for His return, for seeing Jesus face to face?
What are you anticipating this holiday season? Are you entering the Advent season with dread at how busy this time of year is for you? Are you anticipating lots of headaches already? Or are you facing the reality of sin and misery with the greater reality that Christ has come and overcome? Are you anticipating knowing your Savior better and God’s grace of salvation being planted deeper in your heart as we mediate on the truth and love of the incarnation?
Where are you anticipating Christmas this year? Sometimes it seems that the only place we can ‘get into the Christmas spirit’ is at church! We may grumble that it’s not politically correct to even say “Merry Christmas” at work or school. But have we really connected the coming of Christ and the consequences of the Gospel with the rest of life? Does Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection impact our retirement, our work, our school experience, our parenting?
When are we anticipating our celebration of the Savior? Will we make time daily as individuals and families? Will we make our weekly gathering as a church family a priority? Our anticipation level may go up with the decorations, but the joy of knowing Jesus shouldn’t go away when the decorations come down. By God’s grace even the sorrows and sufferings that are part of this world will make our anticipation even sharper.
Why are you anticipating Christmas?
How are you anticipating Christmas? Is there a real expectation that God will be faithful to keep His promises? Will you take this opportunity to prepare your heart to celebrate your Savior as well as ready yourself more and more for His return?
A wonderful example of faithful, eager anticipation for the coming of the Promised Messiah shows up in the second half of Luke chapter 2: Simeon (see Luke 2:25-35). The Lord had been silent some 400 years, the last prophet until the ministry of John the Baptist was Malachi, but Simeon held onto the promises of God and was “waiting for the consolation of Israel . . . the Lord’s Christ” (Lk. 2:25-26 NIV). The world seemed pretty dark for God’s chosen people, “but when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4 ESV). Simeon’s heart was filled to overflowing with praise when his anticipation was changed into participation. He took the Savior in his arms and declared for all to hear that “my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk. 2:30 NIV)!
This Christmas day may come and go like so many before, but we needn’t be unchanged. You and I, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can, like Simeon so long ago, see the fulfillment of all our anticipation when we see and embrace by faith our Savior. And we too can continue to wait with anticipation for Christ’s return. May our anticipation return to a childlike level this year because of ALL that God has promised!
*Check out Samaritan’s Purse website for stories, photos, and videos of Operation Christmas Child and its impact: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/occ-stories/