Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

I love Jesus, but I really don’t like Christmas. The pressure to find the perfect gift for the people on my list (most of that pressure coming from myself) rattles me every year, and I always dread the physical pain of browsing in stores and standing in lines. These days, I do most of my shopping online, but even that can be draining when you have no idea what someone wants or needs, and you really want the gift to be perfect. Every year, I tell myself I’m going to enjoy Christmas and every year, I don’t.

So now here we are again, with the Christmas season in full swing, and my opinion of the whole thing has not changed. One thing I am enjoying this year, however, is Christmas hymns. I’ve been hearing quite a few on the radio, and the one I heard today brought me real joy as I thought about all the Scripture it references. The song I heard was Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. As I listened, I understood how far my experience of Christmas has drifted from the true meaning.

Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free

From our fears and sin release us. Let us find our rest in Thee.

What are your expectations at Christmastime? While our children may be making wish lists, most of us as adults aren’t really getting our hopes up over gifts. Our expectations are more about people or circumstances. We may be hoping for peaceful and happy family gatherings, or Christmas bonuses. Or maybe we’re apprehensive about that tax bill that comes every December, or worrying about rumors of layoffs at work.

Born to Set Your People Free

Whatever our circumstantial expectations, these first two lines of the song bring us back around to the only expectation that is realistic and promised: Freedom. Freedom from fear and the punishment of sin. Freedom from the bondage of striving to meet the expectations of people (ourselves included) who are never quite satisfied with our performance. Jesus said that if He sets us free, we are free indeed. He came to earth for that very purpose, and He has accomplished it. So, why do I still act like I am in bondage to this insane gift-hunt I go on every year? This is really fear of man, and I must repent and enjoy the freedom from that fear and sin that He bought for me.

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art

Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart

Strength, consolation, hope—who doesn’t want these things? Especially at Christmastime, when grief can feel fresh again, family dynamics are tested, and stress mounts high, we truly need these things. The more we focus on the birth of our Savior, the less we will feel the pain that this season can bring. The author of Hebrews reminds us of our access to this strong consolation. He describes our hope as an anchor for the soul, which is sure and steadfast. When we cling to this hope, looking to Jesus for help, Christmas will truly be a celebration of His birth.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king.

Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.

This child had no resemblance to any other. He was the only begotten of the Father, sent to deliver us from the power of sin and death. I can only imagine the awe of those who first saw Him in the manger. His mother and Joseph were the only witnesses to the birth of this great King. What were they anticipating as they talked about the prophecies, and about what the angel had said to each of them? They must have been thinking about that kingdom that He would usher in. Is that what you and I are thinking about as December rolls along toward the 25th? If not, I hope that we will turn our focus there.

By thine own eternal spirit, rule in all our hearts alone

By thine own sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

Is Jesus ruling in your heart? Or are there other things ruling there, like relationships, finances, politics, or your own desires? Whatever you think about and desire the most, that is what is ruling your heart. As I reflect on my attitude toward Christmas, I can see that I have allowed the commercialism of our Western culture to usurp God’s place on the throne in this area. I want my loved ones to know how much I care for them, but I’m looking for the wrong vehicle to deliver that love. Gifts and material things are nice, but just as the first Christmas was not about the gifts of the Magi, so this Christmas must not be about the presents.

My dear sisters, how are you showing love to those for whom you are ceaselessly shopping, desperately seeking the perfect gift? Do you think that they will see in that gift the love of Christ coming from your heart to theirs? Or is there a better way? I’ll leave the answer to that question up to you, but as you ponder it, do so in the light of the final words of this great hymn, remembering that gifts are not eternal, Christ is sufficient, and one day we’ll be with Him in glory:

By Thine own eternal Spirit

Rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit,

Raise us to Thy glorious throne.