Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: A child is born to us! … He will be called “Wonderful Counselor, … Prince of Peace.” (9:6, Good News Translation) What welcome news for his audience, the war-torn people of Israel, who were besieged by a powerful enemy, the Assyrians.
What were their expectations? Surely this long-awaited king would come in pomp and majesty. Surely, he would crush the armies of their enemy and restore Israel to its former greatness.
Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 9:2-7) was given to reassure God’s people that, despite their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God would send a Messiah. In fulfillment of this promise, years later the Scripture states that Mary, the mother of Jesus, “gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger…” (Luke 2:7, GNT)
A king in a manger? Surely there must have been some mistake. That was certainly not what the people were expecting. Yet, Jesus was God’s gift to them, holy and humble, clothed in human form.
Like the people of Israel, many of us have flawed expectations. We fail to see what God has in store for us. Especially at the holiday season, we sometimes feign happiness and forecast automatic joy; we predict peace where chaos once reigned; we expect silver bells and Christmas lights to brighten our dreary lives. Oftentimes, reality shortchanges our expectations.
We can, however, expect great things from God. His gifts are unique, perfect (James 1:17), at times surprising (Romans 11:34), but always good. God sent Jesus into the world as a precious gift (John 3:16), a Savior for all seasons who would bring love, joy, and peace to all people. All our yearnings and expectations are fulfilled in him and we find ourselves saying with the hymn writer, Charles Wesley (1707-1788):
Come thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Let us welcome the Christ Child, thankful that God, in his divine wisdom, gives us not just what we expect, but what we really need.