In Psychology 101, we learned the obvious: most people anticipate happy experiences. We look forward to marriage, to a job change, to a vacation, to school being out–to Christmas. We can’t help it. Anticipation part of us. It is actually a brain function, where a chemical called dopamine is released as a chemical neurotransmitter. It’s released from the brain’s frontal lobe and acts as a stimulant that prevents pain, stimulates pleasure and causes excitement. Dopamine stimulation happens when we experience and expect good things. Anticipating positive events sustains the output of dopamine into the brain’s chemical pathways.
Scientific experiments show that most people anticipate future positive events, as opposed to future negative events. It doesn’t matter if you’re an optimist or a pessimist; the brain is wired to anticipate positive experiences. And this is the way God made us. It is why the prophecies of the birth of Jesus are so important–they let us anticipate that God has been working all along, ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
The Bible says that the whole earth–all of creation–is in a state of anticipation as to what God is going to do next. In Romans 8:18-19, Paul writes,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
The creation. We humans and the rest of this planet (and possibly others) presently face suffering, much of it of our own making. When Adam sinned, God sentenced all of creation: "Cursed is the ground because of you" (Gen 3:17 NRSV). Since then, the world has suffered decay and pollution, largely because people have forgotten or ignored their responsibilities as stewards of the earth.
As individuals, our pathway is reversed because of Christmas. Christ came into the world–God sent His only Son into the world that we would not perish, but have everlasting life. The Savior was born as an infant, and our gift-giving, extravagant as it is, is but a shadow of the worth of God’s gift to us.
Here, Paul uses a Greek verb to describe our anticipation of the time that the earth will be set right again. The word, is used other times in the NT and to describe the anticipation of followers of Christ that He will return again. Here it is used in connection with creation anticipating that day. In the meantime, the created order functions in spite of its flaws. Broken, damaged, sinful people, living in the marvelous grace of our loving Lord. Diseases, and suffering, depleted resources, unequal wealth–all constantly remind us that all is not right with us or with the planet. Poor choices, even among the followers of Christ remind us to lean on Jesus by realizing our need for forgiveness and grace. In this life, I have to confess, with Paul that, “In my flesh; the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” (Rom 7:18, Allen’s Paraphrase). I need Immanuel to be with me, to be with my family, to be with my church–to dwell among us that we might life forgiven and abundantly in the hope of His return.
Jesus came in a manger. He will come again in glory. “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Mt. 24:27, NASB)
So, there's just something about Christmas Eve. The anticipation...the wonder...the excitement about what's coming...the feeling that moves over DBC when we let the children light glow sticks and the adults light candles and we sing "Silent Night" at the Christmas Eve service...the memories of loved ones who are no longer with us...watching the DBC children who are beginning to understand the joy of this time of year. Thank you for letting me be your pastor. This season–this night–Christmas Eve is just special.
You see, I desire to wonder. I don’t really want to figure it all out, I want to embrace the crazy idea that a baby born in a manger is the very essence of God in our midst. I want to lay my pride and my troubles and my inability to always “make it all better as a pastor, a husband, or a dad. I want to rest in my heavenly Father and his plan. I want anticipate what He will do next, in this little community of faith called Dunwoody Baptist Church.
1. Almost all of us agree that we desire a plan that gives us hope. God’s plan is revealed through the predictions of the birth of Jesus which should assure us that God’s plans for us and for all of creation are not being made up on the fly. God is God and I am not, and He has got this.
2. When we gather for Christmas and enjoy the company of family and friends, exchanging gifts and stories, we get a picture of the harmony that God has in mind. Even those of us who are sad because of the absence of persons we love have a sense that the images of Christmas that we observe hint at God’s ultimate healing of our pain and our planet.
3. Christmas should remind us that God has a plan for us and that to walk in relationship with Him through following Jesus is the best path we can be on. Jesus says that He came that we might have an abundant life, yet so many of us continue to try to solve everything on our own. Can Christmas and the coming of a new year be an inspiration to reordering priorities in 2017 in such a way that your relationship with Jesus is the thing that changes everything?
I pray for you to take time today to stop in the midst of whatever is going on around you and soak it all in. Breathe in the smells, etch the faces on your heart, put the cell phones down, hug your loved ones an extra second longer, and remember the reason for all of this is not under a tree or down a chimney, but rather that God so loved the world that He gave us the perfect gift of love and hope: Jesus. I pray you have a wonderful Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas!
Anticipate Christmas. Anticipate Jesus. Anticipate Discipleship in 2017.