By Pastor Glenn Pease
In 563 BC, a son was born to a ruler in India. The local astrologers predicted he would either be a great ruler, or a world renowned ascetic. His father wanted to prevent that, so he sheltered his child from all contact with suffering of any kind. The little prince was to never see life's sorrows. But as he grew up he defied his father and slipped out of the palace to see life on the outside. What he saw was a shock. People were poor and sick and old and there was hardship and suffering everywhere. He began to search for why this was and the conclusion he came to has influenced millions. This prince was Buddha the founder of Buddhism.
He concluded that the whole problem with human beings was their desire. They set their hearts on too many things, and expect the future to fulfill their hopes. This leads to inevitable disappointment and misery. The solution is quite simple. You just eliminate desire. If you aim for nothing that is likely what you will get. But you won't be disappointed because that is just what you expected-nothing.
Buddhism is a negative religion where the goal is Nirvana, which means extinction. It is the elimination of all desire, hope and anticipation. The closer you can come to this in life, the greater saint you are. To be detached from all things and people so that you no longer care if they are destroyed or die, the better off you are. You can't be disappointed if you desire nothing. This sounds awful and depressing to us maybe, but we have to face this reality, there is a measure of truth in it. Desire to be like God led Adam and Eve to fall, and much of the sin and folly in the Bible is due to illegitimate desires.
Ruel Howe in his book, The Creative Years, tells of the bright outgoing young woman who collapsed on the eve of her wedding day. She got more and more depressed and tried to take her own life. She had to be put in a mental hospital where she continued to deteriorate. She sat in a corner and refused to respond in any way. This went on for weeks and months, and all she did was sit crumpled in a corner, a symbol of living death.
An artist working on a portrait of the superintendent heard about her and asked to see her. He took a piece of moist clay and began to work with it in front of her. He did this for weeks, and finally one day she reached out for the clay. Some weeks later she began to try to mold it. She became frustrated that she could not do it, and in anger hurled the clay against the wall. She then looked in terror at the artist to see his reaction. He just picked it up and brought it back to her and said, "It's alright, I still like you." Then she spoke her first words in many months-"You still like me!" That was the turning point, and from then on she made rapid progress in her recovery.
They were finally able to figure out what had gone wrong. It was a simple case of excessive expectation. She was bright and talented, and her parents wanted her to be popular and to succeed in every endeavor. She worked her heart out and became cheerleader, homecoming queen and valedictorian. When she faced the expectations of marriage and the added demands of a husband, it was an overload on her spirit. She broke and retreated into sickness in order to escape.
Buddha was right; all of this misery was due to hopes and desires. By expecting less everyone involved in this true story could have experienced more joy and less sorrow. Those who expect too much, and who desire perfection are doomed to disappointment in a fallen world. Buddha had a point, but he took it too far. To anticipate and expect nothing would have been to waste the gifts of this girl, and rob her of the potential of being what she could be. Somewhere between expect everything and expect nothing there is a place for expect something.
About the same time that Buddha was teaching his desire nothing philosophy, there was a prophet called of God to take a message to his people. Haggai was his name, and encouragement was his game. The people had come back from Babylon to rebuild the temple with high expectations. But their enthusiasm was soon shattered. The Samaritans so hindered the work that the project was abandoned. The cities were in ruins and the land was a mess, and their neighbors were hostile. They came back with high hopes of peace and prosperity, and this is what they find. Maybe Buddha was right. Their misery was because they expected too much.
Then Haggai came on the scene, and he urges then to get back to their dreams and rebuild the temple. God never promised you a rose garden. Sure it is hard, and there are obstacles to overcome, but let me tell you a little about the future. The best is yet to be. God's glory to going to fill this temple and there will be a peace come upon you as never before. The Desired of all the nations is going to come to this temple that God wants you to build. Haggai is saying, we haven't seen anything yet. The best that God has for this world is still ahead-the desire of all the nations.
Haggai is saying that desire is good. It is a God given emotion, and it is universal. All nations have it. You can try and follow Buddha and suppress it, but that is not God's way. He wants you to desire His best. The Old Testament rejects the Buddhist idea of eliminating desire. Instead, it builds up hope, expands expectation, and delights in desire. Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart." There are dozens of texts that make desire a desirable thing. In the New Testament we are urged to desire the sincere milk of the word, and to desire the best gifts. Desire is good and the best desire of all is the desired one that God promised to send for all the world.
People of every nation have always desired a deliverer. Someone who can come and show a way to overcome the sinful nature and all of the negative consequences of sin. Haggai says this is not just the desire of God's people, but all the peoples of the world have such a desire. That is why one of the names of the Messiah is Desire Of All Nations.
The wise men from the East were waiting for the birth of a deliverer. Virgil, the Latin poet, who lived in Rome a few years before the birth of Christ, wrote of his hope of a celestial seed who would come and bring peace. Plato wrote,"We must wait patiently until someone, either a God or an inspired man, teach us our religious duties and remove the darkness from our eyes." The Roman historian, Suetonius, wrote that it was an age old belief that a world ruler would come out of Judea.
Men of every nation have desired a God they could see. Most all of the mythology of the ancients was about just such a theme. It was the fantasy of all peoples that God would come into the world and be like them. This fantasy of all the world became a reality on the first Christmas. God became incarnated in flesh, visible to the eyes of humanity. What men had waited for from the beginning of time, had come. The desire of all nations had been fulfilled, and that is why Christmas is the greatest celebration of the year.
Before Christmas God was wholly other than man. He was the infinite, exalted inaccessible and invisible God. At Christmas all of this changed, for God came down to man's level, and all the way to an infant. He came to a level of the visible, and could be touched. He entered into a world where he had to grow and learn, and where he could feel pain and sorrow, and all the affects of a fallen world-even death. This is just what men of every nation had always wanted, a God who would show He really cared by coming to share their life in this fallen world. God satisfied the universal longing of the human heart that first Christmas. The world did not even know it, but they got just what they were waiting for on that day. The desire of all nations had come.
It is always hard to believe when the Christmas season is here again, and sometimes we complain that the merchants start so early just to make more money. This is no doubt true, but the fact is you cannot anticipate this event too early. Christmas was waited for, for many centuries. Now that it is an historical reality, we should be ever ready to anticipate the celebration of this wondrous good news.
Plants and animals cannot do what we can do by looking into the future, and anticipating a coming event. We can multiply our enjoyment of a coming event by our ability to anticipate it. We can begin to enjoy it long before it is here. Much of the enjoyment of Christmas comes before Christmas. The day itself may be very ordinary. It is not wise to put all your eggs in the one basket of Christmas day. The day is not sacred, but the event it celebrates is what is precious, and this can be enjoyed anytime and all the time. Christmas is more than a day, it is a season, and that season can be as long as you choose to make it. By spreading your celebration out over a 4 to 6 week period you can be sure you will have pleasure in waiting and seeing desires fulfilled.
Everybody is waiting for something at Christmas. Some are just waiting for it to be over so they can stop waiting for it. Some are waiting for special gifts. Some are waiting for special events. Some are waiting for special foods or special relationships they only renew once a year. People have different values that make waiting a pain or a pleasure. S.Omar Barker wrote,
Waiting for a phone call frets him.
Waiting for his wife upsets him.
Almost any kind of waiting
Starts his temper activating.
He's the guy who finds delight
Waiting for the fish to bite!
The point is, waiting itself can be part of the pleasure if you have pleasure in what you are waiting for. Waiting in line at the super market is not enjoyable, but the reason you endure it is because the food you are going to take home is enjoyable. You will wait for any goal where you can anticipate that the pleasure is greater than the pain.
In the New Testament there was an old man who was feeble and ready to die, but he could not do so because he was waiting for God to do what the world had always desired him to do-come into the world and reveal Himself. God had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. We read in Luke 2:25, "Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel." Simeon was a God-ordained waiter. That is all we know about him. He was waiting for the Christ child and when Jesus was brought to the temple he was there to take the babe in his arms and praise God.
We don't know just how long he had been waiting but he was the only man outside the immediate family who lived in intense anticipation of the first Christmas. All the nations desired God to come, but Simeon knew He was coming in his lifetime. That was truly privileged information. But note what he was anticipating-the consolation of Israel. That is another name for the Messiah. He is the Desire of all nations but also the Consolation of Israel.
Israel had a hard history. They had suffered much, but their consolation would be, they would be the nation that gave the whole world the Savior of the world. It was a comfort to know that all their suffering would not be in vain, and that through them, God would fulfill His promise to Abraham to bless the whole world through his seed. You can put up with a lot of negatives in life if you know you are being used of God to achieve His positive purpose.
Christmas fulfilled the general hopes of all mankind, and the specific hopes of God's people. Christmas was the most fulfilling event in all of history. It satisfied the hopes and dreams of all the peoples of the ancient world-both Jews and Gentiles. There is no other event that can stand in the same category with it. Christmas stands alone as the focus and fulfillment of all that men could anticipate from God. That is why it is so appropriate that we sing Joy to the World. It is not just good news for some-Christmas is good news for all the world.
We need to keep perspective to avoid disappointment. If we focus on what Christmas will bring to us we may be let down. We need to remember, Christmas is a celebration, not of what might be, or of what we hope to see happen. It is a celebration of a sure thing that has already happened. God has come down to man to dwell with him. John begins his first epistle, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaimed concerning the Word of life." The Desire of all nations has come. The Consolation of Israel has come. We celebrate a certainty, not a hope. In I John 5:11-12 we read, "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life." The best God can give He has already given. We may not get many things that we hope for, but we never will be disappointed in Christmas if we see that it is a celebration of what we have already received. So what we wait for is a renewed awareness of what is already ours. We are to anticipate that Christmas will awaken in us anew, the reality of what God has given us in the Gift of His Son.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, a British Neurologist, wrote a book in 1973 called, Awakenings. A movie was made of the book by the same name because it was so spectacular. It is about the victims of a rare sleeping sickness that affected some 5 million people world wide during World War I. The disease turned people into frozen statues as motionless as stones. They were still alive, but they could not enter the world of the living.
In 1967 a new drug called L-dopa was developed and Dr. Sacks tried it on his patients. It was like a resurrection. These people burst forth with joy and laughter. Some had been motionless for almost 5 decades and now they were walking and talking and able to feel and to think. They had been reawakened to what was already theirs-the gift of life. It lay dormant and unused, but now they could pick it up and use it with enthusiasm. They had found anew what was already theirs.
That is what we should anticipate in the Christmas season-that all of it's color, music and special focus on Christ will awaken us to enjoy the life that is already ours in Him. Someone wrote,
"It's time to light the candles once again,
and to begin those other things that let us know
that Christmas day is on the way:
soon the decorations will come out,
cards will be sent and others will arrive;
soon the baking must take place,
and the shopping and the wrapping
and the wishing, and the waiting.
waiting is the hardest part, O Lord. I wish the day
could just be here without a month to wait!
But even waiting, getting ready, can be fun-
can be exciting too-because I know,
with all these other things I do,
what I am really waiting for-
what I am getting ready for-is You!
Oh, make me patient, Lord, and help me wait:
but while I'm waiting, let me be excited too.
Each day of Advent help me celebrate the joy
I wait for: looking in the manger to see You!"
Let us pray that will be the dominant desire of our lives this Christmas season. Many other desires will also be satisfied-for food, fun, and fellowship, all of which are legitimate and acceptable to God. But our priority desire should always be our celebration of having received God's best-the desire of all nations. Let this be your desire in waiting for Christmas.