One Christmas morning a long time ago, I remember, as a young boy, waking up to see what great presents Santa Claus had brought me. When my sisters and I finally went into the living room with the Christmas tree lit up and all the lights in the room a-glow, I saw it. It was what I had always (that year) wanted. It was the one thing I had been persistent in asking Santa for every time I saw him. And there it sat, beside the tree and unwrapped, because Santa was too busy to wrap something that big and awkward in shape.
It was a brand new and shiny bicycle — just my size. I was so excited. But then I saw the label on the frame of the bike. It was not a Schwinn. My heart, which had been racing in excitement, now sank in disappointment. In my mind, I had always thought it would be a Schwinn. I had even prayed for a Schwinn. I did not express that thought to anybody, but I was so very disappointed that this bike was not a Schwinn that I sat down and moped while my sisters and my Mom and Dad enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the morning.
Have you ever experienced something like that? It may not have been a Christmas present, but it could be any promise that you had been expecting to receive.
Along those same lines, I recently came across an old story about a promise that was both fulfilled and unfulfilled.
In 1740, the Skitswish, a small Native American tribe in northern Idaho, had a prophet/chief named Circling Raven of whom it was said could communicate with crows and ravens. On Solstice Day of 1740, Crow and Raven told the chief that in a land far away, the Creator, who also became the Savior of the world, had been born as a man on that night long, long ago. Circling Raven told his people they should celebrate this savior’s birthday by giving extra sweets and gifts to the children. He also said that the Skitwish should not fight with each other or even with their enemies during the period before and after this day.
In addition, Raven told him that within 100 years men clothed in black robes would arrive with more news about the Creator’s son and the world’s savior. For the rest of his life, Circling Raven searched for the Black Robes. He died never having found them. His son, Twisted Earth, became chief and continued waiting for the Black Robes. He “sang the joyous song of the prophecy and continued the solstice celebration as his father had instructed.”
In June of 1862, a group of Jesuit brothers arrived in their area and Twisted Earth greeted them with joy and sorrow, tears streaming down his face. He was happy that the Black Robes had finally arrived to tell the rest of the story about Jesus, but he was saddened that his father had not lived to see the prophecy fulfilled.
Christmas is a time for promises. We make promises to our families, friends and co-workers — promises that often become burdens. From decorating, shopping, wrapping gifts, attending parties, making cookies, planning activities and cooking, we over-commit ourselves to a never-ending “to-do list.” We run ourselves down physically, mentally and emotionally.
The tendency is that we often find ourselves making so many promises during the holidays that we forget the promises God gave in Scripture, and His fulfilled promises that we can celebrate during this season.
One of the first promises in Scripture that is so fitting for this time of the year is Genesis 3:15. Here, God is pronouncing judgment upon Satan (the serpent) for his role in tempting Adam and Eve to disobey God. He says to Satan, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”
God is telling us here, in what is known as the “protoevangelion” – the “before the Gospel” – that Satan may think he is hurting God, but he is really only “bruising him on the heel,” but that God is dealing Satan a deathblow by “bruising him on the head.” This prophetic promise affirms the fact that if it were not for Easter, there would be no Christmas.! God is saying, in effect, “Satan, you think that by nailing Jesus to the cross you are dealing a death blow to Me, but in fact, I will show you that I will indeed win that battle and the war, when three days after you put Him to death, I will raise Him from the dead, thereby assuring victory.”
For well over 1,000 years, that prophetic promise remained unfulfilled until, “…when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5). Those words describe the first Christmas, when Jesus was born.
I can well imagine the thoughts of those who lived in those in-between years, between when God made that promise and when Jesus was born. When my Dad saw me moping over my not-a-Schwinn bicycle, he sat down beside me and tried to comfort me. He called me to task by saying, “This may not have been exactly what you were expecting when you were expecting it, but it is a good bike, one that you can ride and enjoy and one that will serve you well. Now get up and enjoy it!”
Jesus did not come in the way everyone was expecting Him to come, but He did come, and the challenge for us is the same – get up and enjoy Him.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.