And thus, Christmas begins. Thanksgiving is still in the fridge, wrapped in packages of foil. But for the most part, Christmas has begun in America.
This first week of Advent brings us back to the beginning. The beginning of the church year, the beginning of our journey toward the manger, and the beginning of our faith as we prepare for the Holy Child to be born.
But is it really the beginning?
The awesome blessing of these four Sundays of preparation is how we begin to look backward to the Old Testament to see how the prophets looked forward. In all truth, our journey to the manger begins in Genesis. But for today, we will settle into the lovely book of Isaiah, a common text for Christmas readings. If you are a fan of Handel’s Messiah, you know what I am talking about.
Jesus came to be our Emmanuel. He was born to be our “God With Us.” Isaiah lays the groundwork for the need and the desire for God to tear open the heavens and come down with a fiery presence. The longing and the waiting are beautifully expressed.
Isaiah 64: 1-5 (New Revised Standard Version)
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
We can see in this passage why it was hard for people to receive Christ as Messiah. Born among sheep and shepherds, surrounded with the stink of cow dung as he slept on a bed of hay, Jesus was not what they expected. They expected a “defeating Pharaoh/parting of the Red Sea/slaying all the enemies” kind of savior.
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
The mystery of God-in-flesh was still way ahead of them. Their expectation of God was based all in their past.
4 From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
As we make our way to the manger this year, what are you expecting? What is on your list of hopes and dreams? Are you looking for a victorious military commander to plow through your adversaries with a flaming sword and a burning shield? Or are you looking for the gentle savior who will leave the flock to find you when you become that one little lost lamb?
Advent is a good time to assess and adjust our expectations. Christmas will likely be very different this year, but at the heart of every Christmas is the advent of the miracle of hope. No matter what your expectations are, hope is always needed. So welcome hope in, and tear open every place in your heart that needs a gentle Savior.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.