The following devotional from our Christmas Eve service was written by Thom Smith, a member of the TBC community.
Anticipation surrounds us this time of year. It is that excited feeling – that longing for something we’re pretty certain we are going to receive. And what are many of us anticipating this Christmas season? Possibly the giving and receiving of gifts, reuniting with family, partying with friends, or reminiscing about days gone by. The reason these anticipations are so great is because we usually get to experience what we are waiting for. Usually.
I’m reminded of two gifts I anticipated as a child. One I received, and the other I did not. I had wanted a puppy for some time, and contrary to what my parents said, I expected to get that puppy. Sure enough, after the Christmas Eve service, I walked through the door of my house and there was the puppy I wanted. I was so elated I could hardly contain myself! And if memory serves me right, the puppy had trouble doing the same.
Another Christmas season I was anticipating the most popular stuffed animal out there. This stuffed animal was an animated movie character, and it was everywhere you looked: in clothing stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and even hanging out with the Salvation Army bell ringers. I was sure to get one. But that Christmas morning, there was no stuffed animal to be found. I was devastated. I really believed that that stuffed creature was going to be mine.
We put a lot of stock into our anticipation. The more excited the feeling gets when we are waiting for something, the greater the joy we experience when we actually receive it. The problem is we do not always get what we anticipate. Children who do not get what they want for Christmas may become extremely upset on Christmas morning. Sometimes parents may even smile or laugh at such an occasion, knowing their child is tremendously upset over a matter that will pass over time. But don’t we adults experience the same disappointed feelings, or worse, and possibly with much more frequency? We anticipate relationships that don’t end up working out. We anticipate jobs that we do not get. We anticipate health in loved ones, but sickness prevails. We anticipate peace, but then tragedy strikes.
And aren’t we all seeking the same thing ultimately? I think so. I believe the main thing we all wish to receive is the gift of joy. Joy. That emotion of pleasure, that mindset of contentment we acquire when we discover life has become what it should be. But we must be careful not to confuse joy with selfish gain, temporary delights, or momentary victories, either. Those things always leave us wanting more.
Despite their awesomeness, presents we find under the Christmas tree do not end up providing us with the consistent happiness we seek. Despite a job working out, or a relationship turning into marriage, or a terrible sickness being defeated, all of these matters do not supply us with consistent happiness; with everlasting joy. More troubles arise, more problems challenge, and more anticipations let us down.
That’s where this little baby comes in. The baby we hear people singing about in songs at church or on radio stations after Thanksgiving. The baby we see this time of year in nativity scenes on peoples’ lawns or bookshelves. The baby that Linus talks to Charlie Brown about on television screens year after year. The baby called Jesus.
Jesus was born on this earth over two thousand years ago, and His birth is not significant because it was in a barn, or because it was in Bethlehem, or because the celebration of his birth is now observed as a holiday. Jesus’ birth is important because of who He is. Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is the defeater of death. Jesus is the only one who can promise us anticipation that will not disappoint; joy that will not fade.
What is this anticipation called that we can be assured will never fail? Hope. Not the hope we can relate to in our day-to-day lives. No, the kind of hope promised to everyone by Jesus was not a fingers-crossed, roll-of-the-dice hope. It was an expectant hope. It was a hope of certainty. These days our lives can easily be full of uncertainty, suffering and sorrow. They can also be filled with temporary pleasures that will inevitably leave us feeling unfulfilled. Nothing and no one can provide us with the authentic, everlasting joy we seek that can conquer the sorrow and emptiness we need remedied. No one that is, except Jesus.
I once read about a man whose wife of four years had had a miscarriage. She suddenly passed away a few weeks later at the age of 22.
This same man remarried several years later, and he and his wife were blessed with six children. Sadly, however, their third daughter passed away at the age of one.
This man’s second wife was 44 when she died in a very tragic accident. He was there when the accident occurred, and he tried but failed to save his wife’s life.
The next Christmas after her death he wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after that his journal read, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
At about the same time, this man’s oldest son joined the army and went to war without his father’s blessing. A year later he got word that his son had been seriously wounded. That Christmas the man did not write in his journal at all.
As the war was coming to a close, this same man who had experienced so much heartache and loss in his life heard the local church’s bells ringing on Christmas day. He sat down to his desk and wrote a poem. This man was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and this is part of what he had to say:
And in despair I bowed my head:
'There is no peace on earth, ' I said
'For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.'
Life is full of anticipation and happiness, but it is also filled with disappointment and sorrow. On this Christmas day, please know that the celebration of the birth of Jesus is not just a celebration of gifts, food, family and love. It is a celebration that peace can be found, hope can be counted on, and joy can be experienced by us all. For the angel proclaimed to the shepherds and the world that night long ago, “Fear not; for behold I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” This Savior is Jesus, the fulfiller of anticipation; the provider of enduring joy.