There is little that compares with the joy of anticipation. It is almost as much fun as when that thing you are hoping for finally arrives. Remember when you were little and Christmas was three weeks away, like it is now? All of us probably have a story to tell about things we did as children to try and make the days go by faster. Especially on Christmas Eve. My two brothers and I would sleep in the same bed that night when we were little, which was a miracle pretty close to the parting of the Red Sea. On any other night of the year, the three of us in the same bed would have ended with a trip to the emergency room. I shudder thinking about the BB gun fights we used to have. I shake my head at the memories of sticking straight pins through spit wads and shooting them at each other with rubber bands. We were three rambunctious boys who lived to torment each other 364 days a year, but on Christmas Eve we were transformed into cherubs whose excitement for Christmas day healed all wounds and buried all hatchets.
We would lie there “bug-eyed” as Mom used to say, and talk about what we hoped to get for Christmas. Sometimes we were tipped off when we heard the present arrive, like the year Dad gave us a mini-bike and we heard him roll it through the front door and into the living room on Christmas Eve night. We were hyped-up on pure adrenalin, imagining the fun of riding our new mini-bike in the back yard on Christmas Day. It took every ounce of our collective willpower to keep from sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to see this new treasure. It is a good thing we did not go down to look. Looking leads to sitting leads to cranking leads to riding. Through the living room. Thankfully, we waited until the sun was thinking about rising. And though that was hard, the waiting increased the anticipation of the joy that would be ours when we finally saw the gift.
That is in part what we celebrate during this time of the year: the joy that is ours in Christ, the greatest gift the world has ever received. We celebrate his first coming to us, and we look forward to his return.
The joy of anticipation only works if you have two ingredients present: One, you are looking forward to something that you really want with all your heart and…Two, there is every assurance that what you are looking for will come.
Read the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. They were promises given by God to His people that produce the joy of anticipation. The very first prophecy was spoken by God in the Garden of Eden when he said the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, speaking of the Savior who would destroy the devil and his works. Isaiah told us Jesus would be born of a virgin. Micah told us Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. Hosea told us he would live for a time in Egypt. Many authors told us he would be rejected by His own people. Zechariah told us he would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. Every promise made by God about the first advent came true. That means every promise about the second advent will come true as well.
Think of it this way. Which one of these is most accurate to real life as we know it? “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” That’s Macbeth. Or, “And they lived happily ever after.” That’s Cinderella, among other fairy tales. It is Cinderella that most clearly describes life for a Christian! I believe the reason fairy tales often end with, “And they lived happily ever after” is because there is a longing for that in all of our hearts. It is baked into our DNA, put there by God. Solomon got a glimpse of this and wrote about it as an old man: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning and the end.” Some of the mystery that was unknown to Solomon in the Old Testament has been revealed to us in the New, including the truth that we will live happily ever after with God. Not here, not in this life, but in the one to come. There is a prince, the Prince of Peace, and there is a beautiful bride, the church, and we know just enough about the last Day, when Jesus will return for his bride, to know that there will be perfect transformation and eternal celebration for those who belong to him.
Three weeks and change to go and it will be Christmas day. I am excited already, as many of you are. But our rejoicing is already complete in the One of whom the angels said, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”