As a child, the one thing I wanted to find under the Christmas tree was a book. Preferably, lots of books.
Growing up on the Romanian mission field, there weren’t many books in English to be found, and I had a hard time entering worlds painted with Romanian words. Finding an English book on someone’s shelf was like meeting a long-lost friend, even if I had never read the title before.
One year my father surprised me. I don’t know how he did it, but he gathered and hid a whole box of English books under my bed. When he showed it to me, I was about ready to jump out of my skin from excitement, but he carefully instructed me to only take out one out at a time. I could hardly fall asleep from the excitement of knowing that only a few inches below me there was a literal treasure trove of worlds waiting to be discovered!
Oh boy, that was the best Christmas present ever!
As I think back on that Christmas memory, I realize the wisdom in my father’s gift. He didn’t just give me a stack of books and told me to enjoy—he built anticipation by allowing me to savor one book at a time. There was no rushing through these stories; I read slowly, deliberately, turning the phrases over in my head as I made new friends with the characters in those pages.
The Beauty of Advent
A good father knows how to build anticipation to heighten his children’s enjoyment of a gift, and our heavenly Father does so as well.
In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites little clues about the coming Messiah. First He revealed that He would be born of a human woman (Gen 3:15). Then that He would belong to Abraham’s decedents yet bless the whole world (Gen 12:3). Throughout Israel’s history God revealed new details about the coming Savior: He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:12), in the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Even the approximate time of his birth was foretold (Daniel 9:24)!
Like concentric circles in a tree trunk, each new prophesy revealed a more detailed and specific picture of the Promised One who was to come.
With each new bit of information, God built anticipation, creating longing, helping His people savor each new detail so that the image of the Anointed One would be imprinted on their hearts and they would recognize Him as soon as they saw Him. And there were those faithful few who were watching, waiting, hoping. Simeon and Anna were among them. But most of the Israelites were too busy with their own concerns to recognize God’s Promised One, even when He was standing right in front of them.
But before we judge them too harshly, don’t we do the same thing?
Christ in Us, the Hope of Glory
Paul tells us that Jesus Christ in us is the hope of glory, but we’re often caught up in the busyness of our lives to recognize Him in our day-to-day rush. He longs to be the joy of our lives and the satisfaction of our souls. He calls us to come to Him and rest in Him. And He promises us all of eternity to enjoy His presence.
All our hope is in Him, really. The Advent season is the perfect opportunity to check our hearts and see what we’re most looking forward to: Do we get more excited over the gifts under the tree or the One who hung on the tree? Do we, like the Israelites, get so wrapped up in our dreams and bills and worries or do we, like Anna and Simeon spend our days watching and waiting for the return of Jesus?
Because the best way to celebrate Christmas is to build anticipation, to fill our hearts with hope and longing so that our joy is made full.
My prayer for you this weekend is that you would make time to quiet your heart before God and let Him fill you with hope: hope fulfilled with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and hope to come when He comes back to get us.
Be blessed. And have a Merry Christmas!
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