“How much longer until it’s Christmas?” When my children were little, they asked this question repeatedly. Although we used a daily Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, they still found the waiting excruciating.
We can easily recognize a child’s struggle with waiting, but we might underestimate the challenge it can involve for all of God’s people. Consider, for instance, those who received the message of the prophet Micah, who promised that out of Bethlehem would come a “ruler over Israel” (5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). The initial fulfillment of this prophecy came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1) —after the people had waited some 700 years. But some of the prophecy’s fulfillment is yet to come. For we wait in hope for the return of Jesus, when all of God’s people will “live securely” and “his greatness will reach the ends of the earth” (v. 4). Then we will rejoice greatly, for our long wait will be over.
Most of us don’t find waiting easy, but we can trust that God will honor His promises to be with us as we wait (28:20). For when Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, He ushered in life in all its fullness (see John 10:10)—life without condemnation. We enjoy His presence with us today while we eagerly wait for His return.
Art historian Seymour Slive described the great Dutch artist Rembrandt (1606–1669) as the master of light and shadow, a compelling storyteller on canvas. Rembrandt’s painting The Adoration of the Shepherds portrays the darkened stable in Bethlehem where two shepherds kneel beside the manger while other people stand farther away. One man holds a lantern, but the brightest light shines not from his lantern but from the Christ-child, illuminating those who have gathered close to Him.
We felt as if our Christmas was being canceled last year. Actually, our flight to see family in Missouri was canceled due to snow. It’s been our tradition for quite a few years to celebrate Christmas with them, so we were greatly disappointed when we only got as far as Minnesota and had to return home to Michigan.
When Matteo Ricci went to China in the 16th century, he took samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it. They readily accepted portraits of Mary holding the baby Jesus, but when he produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had come to be executed, his audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They couldn’t worship a crucified God.
Alfred Nobel made a fortune from the invention of dynamite, which changed the course of warfare. Perhaps because of the horrors that wars inflicted with the use of dynamite, he made a provision in his will for a prize to be given annually to those who work to promote peace. Today it’s called the Nobel Peace Prize.
During the turbulent years of the 1960s, popular music in America was a strange mixture of protest and patriotism. Some songs lashed out against war, greed, and injustice in society, while others affirmed duty to country and traditional values. But “Pack Up Your Sorrows,” written by Richard Farina and Pauline Baez Marden, seemed to fit all of the categories with its focus on the quest for personal peace. The refrain said the following:
Adam and Eve didn’t need hope because they didn’t lack anything they needed. And they had every reason to think that life would go on as pleasantly as it started—with every good thing that God had given them to enjoy. But they put it all at risk for the one thing the serpent said that God had withheld: the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5). So when the serpent came with his offer, Eve was quick to indulge, and Adam quick to follow (3:6). They got what they wanted: knowledge. But they lost what they had: innocence. With the loss of innocence came the need for hope—hope that their guilt and shame could be removed and goodness restored.
When I consider Your heavens,” wrote the psalmist, “what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). The Old Testament circles around this question. Toiling in Egypt, the Hebrew slaves could hardly believe Moses’ assurances that God would concern Himself with them. The writer of Ecclesiastes phrased the question more cynically: Does anything matter?