And then there was that horrible Christmas that my sister and I ruined for ourselves….
Melanie had discovered where the Christmas presents were hidden about a week before Christmas. That evening, when my parents went out, we went to their closet and found the stack of wrapped presents. We were post-Santa at that point in our lives, so the appearance and the source of such abundance was no longer a mystery. Neither were the contents, as we methodically peeled back just enough tape and wrapping to see what each present contained. I remember we squealed with delight at what we were about to receive, and that joy lasted about 30 minutes after the presents were carefully re-wrapped and returned to the closet. We realized that we had just taken all of the fun of anticipation out of Christmas, and the next seven days were likely to be very deflated. And they were.
But wait! Tomorrow we would drive to the train station in Philadelphia to pick up our grandparents! And they always arrived with an armload full of presents! Joy to the world, there would be some surprise come Christmas morning.
Except for some strange reason, my grandmother chose that year to wrap everything in white tissue paper. We could see the contents of every single gift without even removing a smidge of tape. It was like a car wreck. We tried not to look, but we couldn’t stop ourselves.
Have you heard of Flat Stanley? We were Flat Betsy and Flat Melanie that Christmas. There was no surprise, no anticipation, no excitement except for that which we felt obligated to manufacture for our parents’ benefit. I can tell you one thing: we never did that again.
Anticipation is big part of the fun. Anticipation actually extends the happiness of an event, as you pre-game your game in your mind and your preparations. I always tell my husband that anticipating a trip is a big part of the trip itself, and it lasts longer. As we make plans, decide what to do, and look up information about our destination, we are emotionally on the the trip before we even leave. There is much to be said about the dreaminess of the “before.”
The Old Testament is a long pre-game of anticipation as the people waited for their Messiah to come. Glimpses of the salvation and redemption he would bring sustained them through long periods of waiting and hoping. Some of the most beautiful anticipatory language is found in the book of Isaiah:
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The anticipatory voice crying out about valleys being lifted up and rough places being smoothed is a voice we should all heed when we find ourselves in need of saving. The question for us this morning is, are you just waiting, as though you are in a holding pattern, or are you anticipating, with your eyes raised up, ready to see the glory of the Lord? Waiting implies inertia. Don’t get me wrong, waiting is a necessary part of every journey. But waiting with anticipation is a place of hope. Waiting with anticipation tells God that you fully expect to be delivered, based not on your own works, but on his promises.
The scriptures encourage us again and again to anticipate God’s intervention and response whenever we cry out to him in our need:
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
So hear the good tidings today: God is actively working in your situation. He comes with might to answer your need. He comes with compassion, to feed you like a shepherd. He comes with love, to carry you in his arms.
He comes. Get you up to a high mountain! Anticipate, and make yourself ready, for he comes.
Rainbow over Colington.