By the end of the Old Testament era, many people were impatient for the Creator to fulfill his promise and make right what had gone wrong. When would the serpent’s head be crushed? Where was God’s promised king (things could never be right without the king!), and why did he delay so long?
People thought they knew what God’s promised king, the Restorer, would be like. He would be mighty – mighty to save. He would be a warrior. He would be a great leader, with the power to subdue nations under him. He would appear from out of nowhere – that’s what some people said (John 7) – and come suddenly to his temple. He would destroy God’s enemies.
If you want to know what people were expecting, just think of your favorite superhero movie, replace the hero’s cape with a white robe and his mask with a beard, give him a sword and a crown, and you’ve got it. The restorer, the king, the savior would be a war hero extraordinaire who would rule the nations with an iron rod. He would put things aright.
Of course that made sense, and of course that’s not at all what God did. Who has ever figured God out? Not even his prophets, the people to whom he sent advanced word of his plans, ever really understood, though they “searched intently,” as St. Peter says, “and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing…”(1 Peter 1:10-11).
People were expecting a mighty warrior. God gave them a little boy. They were waiting for God to send Zion a king. He sent an unmarried girl a baby. They were crying out for a deliverer who would bring judgment on their enemies. God gave them a savior who took judgment on himself. “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34). If Christmas teaches us anything it is this: Though God may put himself in a manger, you cannot put him in a box. You can’t figure him out. He’s not one step ahead of you; he’s light years ahead of you. He will not do things the way you would – you might as well get used to that – but by the grace of Christ you can learn to do things the way he would, if he were you.
His plan was never to shatter his enemies with his sword – at least that is not Plan A. He wants to conquer them with his love. His plan was never just to subdue a wayward world, but to transform it. He wants so much more than to rule from a throne. He wants to rule from our hearts. God was never interested in acquiring real estate – he doesn’t want to take this ridge or that hill – he wants to take a people and make them his own.
That is the story of Christmas, and it is our story. We were (and perhaps some of us still are) the rebels God refused to crush but chose to win. We are the people who usurped God’s place and brought chaos down on our own heads. We are the people who demand that God change our circumstances, when our only hope is to change our hearts and minds. That’s who we are. But this is who God is: he is smarter than we can imagine (he knows everything), stronger than we dare believe (we can’t stand against him, nor can anything else in all creation), and better than we ever dreamed.
So what do we do with a God like this? We bow in worship. We repent of our willfulness – where has it ever gotten us? – and we bring our lives under the rule of his king. He is the Savior of Men, the Root of Jesse and the Son of David. The Unspeakable Gift, the Wonderful Counselor, and the Light of the World. The Desire of Nations, the Lord of Armies and the King of kings. And, beyond the furthest reaches of our imaginations, he is the Baby wrapped in swaddling and lying in a manger. And should we go further yet, beyond not only our imaginations but the imaginations of angels, we will find that he is the Man nailed to a cross. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.