Episode 1. Waiting for Christmas
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As I child, I remember the excruciating wait for Christmas. But it turns out – that leading up to the very first Christmas – there was also an excruciating wait. People were waiting…..for …
As I child, I remember the excruciating wait for Christmas. But it turns out – that leading up to the very first Christmas – there was also an excruciating wait. People were waiting…..for something, someone …
I remember this time of the year when I was a kid, that sense of anticipation. Christmas was just around the corner, the Christmas tree, the smell of that pine tree through the house. Mum would be baking this bread that she always baked at Christmas time and my Dad, well he always baked this six layer chocolate torte that was truly stunning. And as each day crept by, time seemed to slow.
Those last couple of weeks heading into Christmas, they seemed to pass at an excruciatingly slow pace. When would the presents finally be there? When would the time finally come? How could this be going so slowly?
I guess for a child that excruciating and delightful sense of anticipation is so much of what Christmas was all about. But then, then we grow up and somehow Christmas becomes just, well part of the routine.
How’s it feel to you, this time heading into Christmas? Excruciating yet delightful anticipation or just well, get through to the end of the year so I can have a bit of a break.
For most people it’s the latter, it doesn’t matter what we believe, Christmas seems to be a heavily commercialised, advertised, homogenised experience. Presents that nobody needs, food that nobody can eat, at least that’s the case for privileged people who can afford all that stuff.
For the poor, for the needy, for the family starving in a refugee camp and the lonely widow and the sick and the disabled, you look at all this western Santa Claus Christmas hype, that sort of thing that Christmas looks like, well it must look, from that angle, disgusting.
If God is God, if Christmas is Christmas, if Jesus is Jesus, I want God to deliver me from this place. God promises so much, why doesn’t He deliver me? There are people today, listening to this program in Sierra Leon in Liberian refugee camps, in Cape Town in a prison and when you look at this Christmas thing all that God promises, from their angle, it must feel like “well why doesn’t God deliver for me?”
Let’s hold onto that thought because it’s really important as we go back 2,000 years and look at what was going on for the people of Israel in those weeks and years and in fact in the centuries leading up to the first Christmas because just like the child today, those people had a sense of real anticipation. Just like the poor and the oppressed today they were looking for God to deliver them.
You see, Israel had had an amazing history to this point. It all began with Abraham who had a son called Isaac who had a son called Jacob and Jacob had 12 sons who were the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel and they found themselves in slavery in Egypt and eventually God went to Moses and said:
Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go.
And then the plagues came and Moses led them through the Red Sea that parted and they spent 40 years in the desert and finally they made it to the Promised Land, the land we know as Israel today, the land flowing with milk and honey that God promised Abraham centuries before.
When they got there, over the coming centuries they went through a lot of things; good kings, bad kings but they strayed from God and so God in 586/587 B.C. allowed the Babylonians to come in and destroy Jerusalem, destroy the temple, take what was left of the Israelites as slaves in captivity in Babylon and there they spent 70 years in slavery until the Persian king, Cyrus let them come back to the Promised Land.
The whole of the Old Testament God spent sending His prophets, men who call Israel back to God, sending His prophets to Israel and the whole of the Old Testament, Israel rejected the prophets and went their own way.
So all of a sudden God stopped talking to them through the prophets and for four or five centuries before that first Christmas, God stopped sending prophets. Now four or five centuries rolls off the tongue really easily but by jingo that’s a long time.
God just stopped speaking, dead silence from God and that time in Babylon, 586/587 B.C. and the 70 years that followed was a turning point because before then, Israel was ruled by it’s own kings, all be it that Israel had split into 2 nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south but they had their own kings but after they returned from Babylon, except for a short period, Israel was always under occupation by someone.
In fact that was the case right through until the modern State of Israel was declared after World War 2 in 1948. Two and a half thousand years occupied by another country and when they returned from the Babylonian exile in 518 B.C., the Persians and then the Greeks desecrated the Temple and did pagan sacrifices and then in 164 B.C. there was the Maccabean revolt and for a brief century they were free and then came the brutal oppression of the Roman Empire.
The people of Israel were God’s chosen people, what a mess their lives were and the nation was in but they remembered God’s promise to King David centuries before, their greatest king and you can read it, I’m going to read it to you now, in the Old Testament in 2 Samuel chapter 7 beginning at verse 12, God made this promise to David:
When your days are over and you rest with your fathers I will raise up your offspring to succeed you who will come from your own body and I will establish his kingdom.
He is the one who will build a house for my Name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I’ll be his father and he will be my son. When he does wrong I will punish him with a rod with floggings inflicted by men but my love will never be taken from him as I took my love away from Saul whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure before me, your throne will be established forever.
A big promise and now Israel, you know, is occupied by the Romans and they’re going back to this promise and thinking, “What about the promise of God?” And so they were expecting God to show up.
They had a high level of expectation, a saviour, a messiah, a king like David. You see the term “messiah” means “God’s anointed one”, it was a term used for the king of Israel. They were waiting for a king with eager anticipation and lots of people came alone and said, “Well I’m that king”. I mean the land was full of false messiahs around when Jesus was born.
David was the greatest king of all, he was a warrior, he defeated all of Israel’s enemies in battle. They wanted a messiah, a king just like David and so there was this sense of eager anticipation in those years leading up to the first Christmas.
Israel was expecting a messiah, they were anticipating what we now call Christmas. And it’s obvious to them that the messiah would have to be a warrior like David, I mean look at this whole Roman occupation, look at God’s promise. Obviously God would send us a king like David to kick the backsides of the Romans right out of our land.
If God is God, he has to deliver on His promises. If God is God, he has to show up, he has to set us free. What they got though was Jesus, not at all what they expected. They struggled to make sense of Him; He was a surprise package completely different from everything they expected of that first Christmas.
Christmas! Jesus! What do you expect?