If you have been an adult for any length, waiting is ingrained in your human experience. At every season of life, there comes the heart-wrenching need to wait for the tides to turn in your favour. It could be a job you have prayed for, a spouse, a child, that big break your business is looking for, etc. 

Despite man’s unending innovations to make our many ‘needs’ fulfilled instantaneously, we have failed to make waiting a thing of the past.

Perhaps there is a good reason for it.  

The Christmas season, as we know it, brings shopping buzzes and a long list of delicacies we all dream of, among other traditions. But underneath these feel-good experiences, there is the backdrop of great anticipation. This often goes unnoticed, and yet, it is very instrumental if we are to truly appreciate the Christmas story.  

Waiting Is Part of the Christmas Story

The last book of the Old Testament ends with a promise: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6). 

400 years later, this promise is fulfilled by the appearance of John the Baptist. John announces the coming of the mightier one, who the gospels reveal to us as Jesus. As it turns out, waiting is not just a contemporary enigma but an ancient one too.

To understand what is going on, we must re-examine the Jewish mind of the 1st century. 

As the Awaited Christmas Story Unfolds, What Expectations Brew?

The Israelites expected a Saviour (Messiah) who would restore them to an autonomous status without an overlord, as had been the case with the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and finally, the Romans. They longed for a flourishing reign in which they conquered the nations, as it was with King David or King Solomon. But that seemed like a dream that was out of their clasp.

The Israelites expected a Saviour who would restore them to an autonomous status without an overlord.

The gospel authors show the people’s eagerness when they mention the crowds rushing to John the Baptist, including the teachers of the law (Matthew 3:5-7, Mark 1:5). 

Dressed as a nomad, John the Baptist is contrasted with the great prophet Elijah. Moreover, his specific baptism location at the river Jordan encapsulated the memory of Israel’s triumphant entry into the promised land (Deuteronomy 9:1). Further still, his usage of the phrase, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD’, was understood as an allusion to God restoring his people to their land following exile from Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 40:3). 

The prophet’s appearance and preaching about repentance were an epic sign that perhaps the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel and judgment upon her oppressors was nearby. Yet, as the story unfolds, God had intentions much grander than they had in mind. It is amidst these looming hopes that Jesus is born. 

Wait, Let’s Go Back Even Further

The term “gospels” is used to describe the four accounts aimed at the telling of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It also means the ‘good news’ translated from the Greek word ‘evangelion’. This term was often used to publicly declare the successful conquests of kings from battle. And so, as a play on the word, these accounts are a public declaration of the sovereign Lord’s appearance, first and foremost, through his birth. However, we must go further back to understand the gravity of this waiting. 

In retrospect, Israel did not just wait for their King’s coming by 400 years but much longer than that. God raised several prophets who came and went leaving a trail of prophecies that seemed like unfinished crossword puzzles. John the Baptist was the last in this long line to inaugurate the fulfilment of God’s promise. A promise that had already been given by many others before him.

‘Prepare the way of the LORD’, was understood as an allusion to God restoring his people to their land following exile from Isaiah’s prophecy.

Even Right to the Beginning of Creation

One of the most important prophecies in the Old Testament to which we can attest to the coming of the Saviour begins at creation. Genesis 3:15 says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  

This passage is significant because it heralds the first gospel given to Adam and Eve after they sinned against God. It reveals that from the dawn of time, God had already planned to secure a lineage. A lineage through which redemption from sin would come as soon as man’s rebellion occurred. 

The rest of the Old Testament becomes a protracted narrative about God at work to remake his broken world and people. This is how far back Israel (and all of humanity unknowingly) has waited for this Christmas story we celebrate today. 

But Then the Waiting Ended…

Through the corridors of time, God patiently worked through his people to bring his promises to a great and dazzling accomplishment. His promise of sending the one who would save us (Galatians 4:4). We now stand in the full measure of the fulfilment through Jesus’ birth. This is a privilege that many people only dared to hope for in their lifetime (1 Peter 1:10-12).

I hope you have enjoyed this back-in-the-day story track. Perhaps, you are now ready to wait for the big reveal and what now of his birth? Hang on for more to come on Christmas day.