Expectations were very high by the time Jesus made his appearance as a baby in a Bethlehem stable. The Jews had waited hundreds of years for the coming of Messiah. They were confident that, in short order after his appearing, Jesus would set the world upright and usher in a period of eternal peace and prosperity for the nation.
No more poverty. No more abuse. No more injustice. No more foreign occupiers. No more personal or national insecurity. Just peace — finally. That’s what they anticipated.
In a sense, the peace many were seeking with the coming of the Messiah was limited. It was nationalistic, not universal in its potential. For most it was “us against them” salvation. Jesus did not drive the occupiers out of Palestine. In fact, the Romans killed him.
But some of them also saw him conquer the grave, and many trusted him as Savior and Lord.
More than 2,000 years after Jesus’ arrival, the world still struggles — with hunger, disease, violence, genocide, mass abductions, racial discord, abuse of various types and more. This Christmas season, the longing for the Savior’s presence is very real.
The world’s people still need the Messiah. The faithful pray for his will to be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven.” We don’t like what we see in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, or in pockets of Africa, Asia, Latin America or even North America. Some of us are distressed about the condition of our communities, and even our own families.
The early Jews misunderstood; the Messiah would not transform the world in one cataclysmic act of appearing.
The transformation is incremental, and it happens person by person, moment by moment. Even the most faithful falter from time to time and find themselves needing a renewal of commitment. It was true of the original disciples, and it has remained true of disciples ever since.
In a sense then, Christmas is a time for believers to commit again, to start anew with Christ in his redeeming work. We need him now more than ever. And so does a world that seems too content to go it without him.
He remains the one true hope for all of us.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.