|As Carly Simon sang, anticipation is making us wait.|
Do you remember Christmas Eves as a child, when images of reindeer on the rooftop and Santa Claus somehow scrambling down your chimney kept you awake? When your mind raced, anticipating what surprises would greet you the next morning?
Anticipation. It’s something we all become familiar with, from our first day in school to the start of a new job. Approaching the moment for exchanging wedding vows. Taking a vacation to a dream destination. Pop singer Carly Simon even turned it into a hit tune, “Anticipation” – and a Heinz ketchup commercial.
But anticipation never becomes more evident than the day before Christmas. I vividly remember what Christmas Eve was like for me as a youngster. On those nights, sleep was not my friend. Anticipation and expectation for what I’d find under the tree the next morning were overwhelming. Those weren’t visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family, but my parents made certain that my sister and I wouldn’t be disappointed Christmas morning.
When we boil it all down, much of the Christian faith is focused on anticipation, not just at Christmastime. In the Old Testament we see wrongfully accused Joseph, waiting years for his release from prison. When his anticipation is fulfilled, he becomes God’s instrument for maintaining His covenant with Israel. Four hundred years later, the people of Israel finally experience their hope realized when God raises up Moses to deliver them from bondage in Egypt.
Jesus’ birth fulfilled many centuries of anticipation, prophecies that teachers of the Old Testament – the Torah – knew all too well. One of them was a fellow named Simeon, described as “righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25-26). God’s Spirit had revealed that he would not die before he had seen the promised Messiah.
When Simeon sees the Christ Child, he declares, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
A bit earlier in Luke 1, we read about John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah (or Zacharias). While performing his official priestly duties, he encountered an angel who told him at long last his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and they would become parents for the first time. The experience literally left him speechless, until his son, John, was born.
Once he regains the ability to speak, Zechariah declares, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…” (Luke 1:76-77).
John the Baptist himself, erroneously believed by some to be the promised Messiah, eagerly anticipated the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. At one point John sent two of his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” To this Jesus responded, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:20-23).
In other words, Jesus was saying, “If you’re still in doubt, John, I’ve got all of the bases covered. Just believe.” And so it is today. We, too, are being asked to just believe. Except we celebrate Christmas knowing He already came. Now our anticipation has shifted to awaiting His promised return.
No longer waiting in expectation for the coming of the Christ, today we anticipate His second coming, which He promised to His followers. We join with believers all around the world in “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).
We know, according to the Scriptures, that the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus weren’t His final act. After informing His disciples He was going to prepare a place for them, He also gave the assurance, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).