- Eldon Peterson
Expecting Our Savior
In just two weeks, another Christmas season will nearly be over. Even before the holiday arrives, we may wonder, “What’s the point?” Rather than looking forward to our celebration, we can find ourselves so stressed out that it difficult to enjoy the season. It is good for us to address this problem now rather than later when we are struggling with disappointments as we clean up the dishes and take the wrapping paper to the trash after Christmas.
It seems that having improper expectations for Christmas is the leading cause of our disappointment. The story of having misplaced expectations for Christ’s birth did not start with us – if we look back to when Jesus was born, the people struggled to rejoice then too because of their wrong expectations.
If we look at the days following Jesus’ birth, we find the wise men have traveled looking for “The king of the Jews.” They followed the star announcing the child’s birth to Jerusalem where they ask Herod the Great, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) However, Herod knows nothing about a child being born who was to be king.
Matthew tells us, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (2:3) Why? Because Herod ruled by appointment from Israel’s occupiers, the Romans. Though he considered himself a faithful Jew, he knew he was not the rightful heir to the throne of David. This announcement, if true, could usurp his position. The people feared that Herod’s troubles might easily spill over onto them.
The Jewish people too had mistaken expectations of the Messiah. They expected and longed for the Messiah to come to set them free from the Roman occupiers. They understood Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah to be speaking of the restoration of an earthly kingdom rather than a spiritual kingdom, “The Spirit of the Almighty LORD is with me because the LORD has anointed me to deliver good news to humble people. He has sent me to heal those who are brokenhearted, to announce that captives will be set free and prisoners will be released.” (Isaiah 61:1)
Because of their wrong expectations of the Messiah, both the people and Herod turned from Christ. Herod’s fear lead him to kill all the male children in Bethlehem to remove his threat. When the people realized that Jesus was not bringing them political freedom they desired, they demanded his crucifixion. Both acted because of wrong expectations.
As we prepare for our celebration of Christ’s birth, do you think your expectations are more like Herod and the Jews or the wise men? We may want to say the wise men, but it is likely that we have more in common with Jews than we want to acknowledge. The story of the wise men offers us with an example of how correct expectations can help us avoid disappointment at Christmas.
How? Because the Jews expected the Messiah to be a mighty warrior who would deliver his people; they did not expect him to come from a poor carpenter’s family. They failed to realize that this descendant of David would be born in humility like David. At first, Jesus seemed to meet the Jews expectations of what the Messiah should be like, however, in the end, he did not fit their expectations.
The wise men, on the other hand, did not come with fixed expectations. Certainly, they began their search in the palace; this was only logical. Nevertheless, when they did not find the child there, they traveled to Bethlehem showing no reluctance in meeting the child and his parents in their humble circumstances. The star, not the circumstances of his birth, had revealed to them that this child was the king of the Jews. They then bring him their gifts and worship without hesitating.
Consider again our disappointments at Christmas. Do they not occur when our expectations go unmet? Our problem is that as we frantically try to have the perfect Christmas we have forgotten that Jesus is the reason for the season. Instead, if we will pause and marvel the gift of life that Christ’s birth brings us, then we cannot be disappointed. We can put off everything else and celebrate what Christmas is about, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)