Friday, December 24, 2010

Celebrating unfulfilled expectations at Christmas

Looking back at the coming of Jesus from the vantage point of around 2000 years later, how Jesus came can seem a bit obvious. We've heard the story so many times we couldn't imagine it any other way.

Lately I've been doing a bit of study in the book of Micah.  I was pondering how verses 2 and 4 of chapter 5 might have come across to their original recipients.

(2)But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
(4)And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

The people of Israel had been under many rulers of varying types. Some were pretty good, some weren't very good, some had been plain awful. They had also been the victims of other nations with powerful leaders. To get a prophecy like this one would have been very exciting. Hearing that a leader was coming for them who would shepherd in the strength of the Lord, be great to the ends of the earth and make them dwell secure would have raised their hopes. Maybe they thought back to some of the better leaders they'd had in the past and pondered what it would be like to have someone who would do an even better job at fixing the practical problems the country faced. Maybe when a powerful and articulate young leader started developing a following people wondered if maybe this impressive rising star was the one they were looking forward to. Maybe mothers told their scared children that although they were oppressed by foreign powers now, one day they would have a political leader who would guide the nation to military victory over their enemies.

In some ways they got less than they were expecting. They probably expected that the ruler would come from a powerful, well connected family. They almost certainly weren't expecting that the new ruler would enter the world by being born in a dirty stable in a small town to working class parents. They didn't get the political leader many would have been hoping and this new ruler didn't solve Israel's problems in the way they would have liked.

And yet they got so much more than they were expecting. They got a ruler who would make a way for them to be right with God even though it would cost the ruler his life. In fact, this ruler was God dwelling amoungst them.

At Christmas we celebrate that God did not send people what they wanted or expected but that he gave them and us who we really needed. He sent us Jesus