God comes to us in unexpected ways. Our problem is that we are looking for him according to our expectations. This is one of the lessons of the first Christmas: God came to nation which eagerly longed for his coming, prayed for his return, and placed all their hopes in his presence. Yet most of the nation missed the hour of his visitation. Is this simply history, or a parable for our day?
The people of God known as Israel had looked for a “day of visitation” for at least 500 years before the coming of Jesus. The nation remembered the golden age of King David a thousand years before the days of Herod, a counterfeit king. David was the prototype of God’s chosen vessel, a unifying and conquering King who established Israel in peace, security, and prosperity. After David’s reign many the prophets began to anticipate a day when Yahweh, the God of Israel, would not rule through a representative king. Instead, God would come personally, take his place on earth and establish Jerusalem as the pinnacle of the earth.
The day of God’s visitation would be both glorious and terrifying. The oppressed (Israel) would be rescued and the oppressor (Persia, Syria, Greece, Rome--or whomever was on top at the time) would be cast down. The people of Israel were looking for their freedom and expected God to judge the rest of the world as well. They expected God would come to the Temple and establish his throne on the earth. They expected “The Day of the Lord,” both great and terrible--great for them, terrible for their enemies. These expectations were based on their understanding of the scriptures and the encouragement of their teachers. These expectations shaped their view of the world, and became the substance of their hopes.
Who could have imagined that when God came to earth personally, he would be dressed in frailty? Who could have imagined that God would indeed come to the Temple, only to declare that the true Temple was built of living stones? Who could have imagined that this King would establish his throne in the hearts of men? And perhaps most incredibly, who could have imagined that the Day of Judgment would indeed come, but that the Son of God would take the judgment upon himself in order to save the guilty?
Of course, in our day, we know these things. We can see clearly. But still the original question remains as a Christmas meditation: Is this simply history, or a parable for our day?