“I can’t see in this darkness, so in need of forgiveness. Before all of my faith dies, show me the way like a northern light. Come find me, ‘cause I can’t find myself. I’m looking for you on Christmas Eve. All over the world the angels sing. But I’m feeling lost, can you save me? I’m looking for you on Christmas Eve.” (Written by Gwen Stefani (sung by Blake Shelton))
A song written and sung by two of today’s biggest secular music artists, the moment I heard this Christmas tune playing on the Christmas station, it grabbed my heart. Why? Because those words are a perfect picture of a world today that doesn’t know Jesus. A world that is lost and longing for the miracle of Christmas. They’re looking for Jesus.
Take a moment to look around you as people hurry around preparing for the holidays. People drowning themselves in alcohol as they celebrate the season. Parents spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on presents for children they rarely spend time with. Families dread those holiday dinners because of the brokenness of their family unit. People hustling and bustling everywhere chasing down the “feeling” of Christmas, only to be left empty when the wrapping paper is left scattered on the floor and the guests have all gone home.
The world is aching. There are homeless and hungry on our own streets here in America, and there are churches who turn them away. Countries are war-torn and people live in fear of being bombed, shot, or captured across the world. Parents argue over finances while Christmas lights blink, desperate to stay afloat financially. Single mothers cry in the light of Christmas trees trying to hold their lives together for their children. Lonely people seek companionship in bars or the arms of lovers because they can’t stand the idea of being home alone for the holidays. Elderly moms and dads sit at home and wonder if their family has forgotten them as they wait for the phone to ring. And some bury themselves in their devices, never looking up from their phone or tablets as family move around them, finding it more bearable to stay lost in technology than to engage with their family.
Look around this Christmas season. Let your heart be broken by what you see. Because the world all around you is so desperately searching for and aching for the miracle that the birth of Jesus offers. And that longing for Jesus is as old as the fall, when sin entered our world and we as a human race needed a savior.
Longing and Waiting for the Messiah
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees. O hear the angel voices. O night divine. O night when Christ was born.” (O Holy Night by Michael Guy Chislett and Dylan Thomas)
This longing for Jesus, this waiting for the Messiah, it’s nothing new. The longing and waiting for Jesus traces all the way back to the very first promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
During the season of Advent, we celebrate that time of waiting that lasted for around 2,000 years. Throughout the Old Testament, the coming of Jesus was prophesied about again and again, and yet the waiting continued. The world continued in its broken state, with the weight of sin and the need of sacrifice on its shoulders. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”
The story of Simeon and Anna in the book of Luke is just one example of this waiting and longing for the Messiah that took place.
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel…And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; She was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and she spake of him to all them that looked for redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:25-32, 36-38)
While we know that generations of people waited for the coming of the Messiah, Luke brings us the story of these two specific people who were waiting for Christmas – Simeon and Anna. Although we don’t exactly know how long they were waiting for Jesus, we know it’s been a long time since both of them are very old. It had been a long wait for both of them, but neither had given up hope.
In the years – the centuries – before the coming of Jesus, things hadn’t gone well for Israel. For more than 500 years they’d been a conquered nation, ruled by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and then, the Romans. Although the time of the prophets was full of prophesies of the Messiah and redemption for the chosen people, after the time of the prophets there had been silence from God for about 400 years.
Still, they haven’t given up hope of that Messiah coming. They still talk about it; Anna and Simeon still long for it and look for the coming of Jesus. Despite the circumstances and despite the current political landscape, they still hope for that miracle.
Even in God’s silence, they know what He’s already said. Despite living in darkness, Isaiah prophesied that they would see a great light. And they’ve been holding on to that promises through those years of silence. In the end, their faith was rewarded, and both Anna and Simeon were able to see their salvation in the form of Jesus the Messiah. After 2,000 years of waiting, the Miracle – the Savior – arrived in a manger in Bethlehem that night. God became flesh.
The World Longs for Jesus
After all those years of silence, the Jews longed for their Messiah to come. And today, the world still longs for Jesus. While Jewish captivity ended long ago, people who don’t know Jesus are held captive by the world and the powers of evil. They’re ruled by sin, and they can’t get out without a savior. Just like those years of silence before the coming of Jesus, things look dark and bleak for people who haven’t found Jesus, and they’re simply going through the motions at Christmas time as they search for that “thrill of hope.”
The world longs for something that will fill the emptiness they fill. Pascal said long ago, “There’s a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and…it can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”Without the experience of meeting Jesus at the manger, this world continues to try to find ways to fill that God-shaped vacuum. Some fill it with possessions, others with short-term relationships, some with obsessive working, and still others with drugs or alcohol.
Unless we meet Christ, that longing in our heart is never filled. Unless we have an encounter with the miracle of Jesus coming down to earth to save us, we’re never happy. Only a relationship with the God-child can satisfy and fulfill us completely. Without Jesus, there’s something always missing, and the world continues to seek for something to satisfy.
There are countless religions that claim that good enough living can save you, but Christianity looks at the heart and proclaims that everyone is terminal because of sin, and only Jesus can save us by transforming hearts. As the world longs for hope, what will actually save them? Jesus is the only way.
On that Christmas night, Jesus left heaven and came as a baby, breaking down all the barriers that sin had created and choosing to become vulnerable to save the human race. Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus came as the most vulnerable among us – a baby – so He could have intimacy with us, and that intimacy, that relationship, is what people are searching for.
We often think that the virgin birth and the appearance of God made flesh in the form of a baby are the miracles of Christmas, but perhaps we all miss the greatest miracle of all – the fact that God wanted to do whatever it takes to get to us, to save us, to be with us. This is the miracle of Christmas that the world is aching and longing for today.
The Longing of the Saints
“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirt within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” (Romans 8:19-25 NLT)
Even as Christmas, as we go through Advent and get closer to celebrating the birth of Jesus, there’s often that sense of longing and pining inside. Perhaps you’ve found it. The sense of yearning and waiting that fills our hearts. We know why the world longs for the miracle of Christmas – they need a Savior – but why do we continue to experience this longing each Christmas?
For 2,000 years, the world waited for a Savior. And when Jesus came, mankind was no longer doomed to be separated from God eternally. Through this vulnerable baby, we could have eternal life. With the birth of Jesus, his death on the cross, and the resurrection, the process of freeing mankind was begun. And while Jesus free us from the chains of sin and makes us new creatures in home, the process of sanctification hasn’t been completed yet.
Paul wrote about that in this passage in Romans. Creation continues to be weary. The whole world, including Christmas, continue to be affected by the curse of sin. We see the devastating effects of sin every day in broken relationships, personal failures, starving children, broken families, financial difficulties, wars, slave trade, and the list could keep going.
Although Christmastime brings celebration and rejoicing as we remember the birth of our Savior, there’s a part of our heart that realizes we haven’t made it home yet. The world is broken. We are still broken, even as Christmas. Creation longs for the day when Jesus will return again.
Only with the return of Jesus will the Christmas story finally be complete and we will finally experience the paradise and fellowship with God that He originally intended. This is the reason for that feeling of longing at Christmas. When we celebrate Christmas, we have a small look at what peace on earth could be and we’re reminded of the constant joy we’ll someday experience in the presence of Christ. And so, we long for His return.
But as Christians experience that longing at Christmas, we do so with hope, because we have the promise that Jesus is coming again. And that joy we feel each Christmas will be so small compared to the excitement of seeing Jesus – our Savior – face to face. Think about it. No more tears. No more pain. No more futility. No more yearning. Just the love of Jesus made complete in us.
The whole world – non-Christians and Christians alike – are longing for the miracle of Christmas. And as you spend time with family, attend Christmas cantatas, wrap presents for loved ones, decorate your home, bake Christmas goodies, or simply sit quietly in the light of your Christmas tree, don’t be surprised if you feel that sense of yearning. The celebration of Christmas comes with just a twinge of sadness because we haven’t made it home yet.
“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” (Philippians 3:20-21 NLT)
And in the glow of Christmas lights, we await it eagerly.