Published (Dec. 8, 2009)

Paul's Epistle...

What does Christmas have to teach us about patience?

"Be patient!"

Oh, how I hated to hear that when I was young. And at no time was patience more difficult than in the months and weeks – those LONG months and weeks – leading up to Christmas.

Oh, it was so hard to wait.

There was that eager anticipation of Christmas gifts. Remember sneaking around trying to figure out where your mom and dad hid the presents? If you found any, you'd shake the box – or just try to figure out what was in there.

Oh, it was so hard to wait.

You just couldn't wait until the presents were handed out among the children on Christmas morning. You couldn't wait to just rip off that fancy wrapping paper to find out what the gifts were.

Oh, it was so hard to wait.

For those weeks on end, we'd want it to be Christmas. It just seemed like it would NEVER get here.

But, eventually it did arrive. And, actually, we really didn't have it too bad waiting those seemingly interminable weeks each December for Christmas to roll around. After all, how would you like to wait centuries for Christmas? How would you like to wait literally thousands of years for Christmas?

"Paul, what an odd question!" Yes, but humanity did, indeed, have to wait thousands of years for what we celebrate at Christmas – the birth of the Messiah.

Ever since the world began, ever since mankind fell in the garden, God promised to send a redeemer. In Genesis 3, verse 15, God warns the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." The very first humans heard the promise – directly from God – of a coming Redeemer. But none of them lived to see its fulfillment. This was, after all, at least four thousand years before the incarnation.

For the first three thousand years the promise remained unfulfilled. But it was always there. It was always something living in the hope of the Israelites – whether they understood it or not. They were waiting for the Messiah.

This hope heated up during the reign of King David. Through Nathan the prophet, God told David that "...your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever..." (2 Samuel 7:16 NKJ.)

The promise seemed distant when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. It seemed distant through times of captivity. The people, in the words of the old Christmas carol, "mourned in lowly exile," praying, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" to "ransom captive Israel." It was not yet time. But God sent prophets – such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel – with assurances and visions of a Messiah to come.

Oh, it was so hard to wait. Generation after generation after generation came and went without seeing the promise's fulfillment.

And now the land of Israel was under the iron yoke of Rome. Four thousand years the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews had waited! What was God waiting for? Where was the fulfillment of His promise?

But then unusual things began to happen. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias the priest to announce that he and his wife, though elderly, would have a son, John, who would be the forerunner of the long-expected Messiah. (Luke 1:12-17.) A "righteous and devout" man in Jerusalem named Simeon was told by the Holy Spirit "that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." (Luke 2:26.) And things really got specific when Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. (Luke 1:35.) Of course, she had some waiting of her own – nine months.

But then the time had come! The Messiah was coming! God Himself was taking on human form! He may not have come in the way many expected, but He came! As Scripture puts it, "...when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons..." (Galatians 4:4-5.)

I love that term, "the fullness of time." God always knew exactly when His Son would come. Through His prophets, God had told the people everything they needed to know – that a Messiah would come, as the angel told Joseph, to "save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21.) All they had to do was believe – and act accordingly. But it took patience – until the fullness of time.

The problem was that despite all of the prophecy God had given His people, Christ came – for most people – unexpectedly. But He lived as no other man has lived. And He died accomplishing what no other man could. The Messiah – after four thousand years of waiting – had come!

But then He left. As Jesus was taken up into the sky and His disciples stood gazing, straining for a last glimpse, an angel assured them that "This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11.)

But when? A few moments earlier, the disciples asked Jesus the same thing. He told them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority." (Acts 1:7.)

Ever since then -- even today -- we are waiting for the Messiah to return. We have the promise. We believe he will return. But it's been two thousand years!

Oh, it's so hard to wait.

But just as surely as Christ came the first time – His birth which we celebrate at Christmas – He will come again. We have His word on it! It is the Christian's "blessed hope." (Titus 2:13.) And "...if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." (Romans 8:25.)

Will His second coming happen unexpectedly, as was the case for most people with His first coming? Most likely. But we, as Christians, must be ready and must be expectant "...and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." (1 Thess. 1:10.)

But that's a lesson in patience that we can learn from Christmas. It is an indisputable reminder that God was faithful to send Christ the first time. And He'll be faithful to send Christ again the second time, even if we don't really know when the "fullness of time" will be. You can count on it! "For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." (Galatians 5:5.)

What we have to do is believe, wait expectantly and act accordingly. And how we do that can make all the difference in our lives – and the lives of those around us.

We celebrate His first coming at Christmas. I can't wait to see how we'll celebrate His second coming!

- Paul

Note: This column first appeared in 2005.

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