We’ve all heard it. We’ve all been told. “Be careful what you wish for.”
This has to be the least. Accepted. Advice. Ever. Especially this time of year when wishes abound, and when a large portion of our seasonal stress stems from trying to find whatever it is others on our shopping list are wishing for. Especially where the kids are concerned, paying attention to the wish list seems like the right thing to do. The loving thing to do. And being careful what we wish for seems, well, so misguided after all.
So how about that first Christmas? What was on the wish list then? Well, how about a Messiah who would come to save the Jews from their Roman oppressors and to restore the Kingdom of Israel there in the city of Zion (Jerusalem); the long awaited “second-coming” of King David? Make it a Messiah who would affirm the wealthy class of establishment Jews, denounce the Roman Caesar, condemn the low-life Galileans to the north and their ill-bred Samaritan neighbors. Pharisees wished for a righteous Judge who would enforce the letter of the Law. And, of course, the consensus wish was for peace on earth and justice for all, soon as the slaughter of their Gentile enemies was over. Oh, and a royal family that would surround this coming Messiah with prosperous, popular, well-married and well-prepared parents living there in the City of David (Jerusalem). Definite wish list item!
Surely a loving God would supply all these Messianic wishes! Right?
Well, no. Come to think of it, none of these wishes came true on that first Christmas. Not a one. Quite the contrary, this new Messiah would come from poor, unpopular, unmarried, and totally unprepared parents, stranded travelers from obscure Nazareth in lowly Galilee. Born to a mother who didn’t wish for any of this to be happening. At least, not yet.
Then there was the little town of Bethlehem. Bethlewhat? Bethlewhere? Scarcely heard of the place. Or how about the dung-scented stable and manger scene? Away in a manger, no crib for a bed? You’re kidding, right? And the low-life shepherds that were the first to see. And the foreign royals from the east who came later, as if to trigger the Jewish flashback to the trauma of Kingly visitors from the east coming to destroy and take captive their King; think Assyria and Babylon. Last thing in the world the Jews of ancient palestine would ever wish for, or ask God for. And speaking of Kingdoms, this was supposed to be a Messianic Kingdom of Israel, not some Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to come to Israel, and not through Israel?
Okay, you know the story. On that very first Christmas, God gave them mostly the opposite of what they were wishing for. Christmas is some times like that. They got nothing they were wanting but everything they were needing. They weren’t at all pleased. But they were all helped, as are we all yet today.
I can’t help but think this is what God’s love is really all about. And maybe what our own love should be all about. Not pleasing people, but helping people. (Jesus was not a people-pleaser; hence, his death by crucifixion.) Not giving people what they are wanting or wishing for, but what they are needing? This is the perfect Christmas love that says, “you need help more than you need pleasure. You need love more than like. You need Jesus more than Santa.”
We may still be careless about what we wish for. But the God of Christmas is careful. And loving. And the Jesus we need is soon coming to help.