We expect everything to be a certain way. We want our houses to be decorated just so, with the Christmas tree here, the snowmen here, and the lights here. We look forward to eating a specific Christmas meal, probably one that we’ve eaten every Christmas for years. We have rituals and routines for when we go to church, when we open presents, and when we gather with family.
We make lengthy Christmas lists detailing the various gifts that we want, and we expect that we’ll get at least a few of those gifts. We listen to the same Christmas songs year after year, and we love watching classic Christmas movies like It’s A Wonderful Life.
When our expectations aren’t met, it throws us off. It can put us in a funk. It puts a damper on the Christmas mood.
And there’s nothing wrong with having expectations of what Christmas should look like.
But sometimes the familiarity of Christmas can make us forget a fundamental truth about Christmas: the birth of Jesus was very unexpected.
Christmas is about God doing the unexpected. It’s about God's acting and surprising and thrilling ways. The truth is that God doesn’t operate like we would expect Him to, and the Christmas story makes this abundantly clear.
God’s people, the people of Israel, eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah. Many people expected God to send them a great deliverer who would establish his earthly kingdom, free them from their enemies, and bring peace and prosperity to them.
And in some ways, they had reason to expect these kinds of things. Think about the great deliverers and kings that God provided for Israel throughout their history. King David, Israel’s greatest king, was a fearsome warrior. In his youth, he slew the giant Goliath, and from there he went on to defeat enemy after enemy. When the people of Israel beheld David’s prowess in battle, they declared, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7).
God promised the people of Israel that He would send them a king from the line of David. In 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16, God told David:
“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever....And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”
In Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah, saying:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
God’s promise to David, the words of Isaiah, and other prophecies and promises about the Messiah rightly shaped the people of Israel’s expectations. They eagerly looked for the day when the Messiah would explode onto the scene, build his kingdom, and vanquish his foes. They hoped and prayed and longed for God’s chosen rescuer to come and free them from oppression from their enemies.
And God answered their prayers and fulfilled every promise.
But not in the way they expected.
God turned people’s expectations on their heads. The way He fulfilled His promises was surprising, even shocking to many. The Messiah came, but He didn’t fit with people’s expectations. The birth of Jesus caught many people off guard.
Jesus was God’s promised Messiah. The Deliverer. The Rescuer. The King who would sit on David’s throne forever. The One who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Jesus was the long-expected and hoped for Redeemer.
First, He wasn’t born in a glorious palace, surrounded by servants, being groomed to ascend to the throne. The birth of Jesus happened in a manger in a small, backwater town called Bethlehem. Instead of being surrounded by silk and linen and incense, He was surrounded by farm animals.
His parents were two very ordinary people. They weren’t royalty. They weren’t highly esteemed. His dad was just a carpenter who spent his days working with wood. His mother was a young girl with no claims to fame.
There were no earthly celebrations or grand royal displays when Jesus was born. No trumpets. No fireworks. No parades.
Yes, the angels did fill the sky and declare the birth of Jesus, but who did they tell? Shepherds. Lowly, humble, unimpressive shepherds. Nobody thought much of shepherds back then. They were blue-collar workers who spent their days out in the fields among their sheep.
Throughout His life, Jesus continued to subvert the expectations of the people. He spent most of His time among the poor, sick, and lowly. His disciples were mostly uneducated fishermen. He intentionally stayed out of the limelight. There were points when people wanted to make Him a king and He steadfastly refused. Instead, He chose to wash His disciples’ feet.
And then, in the most shocking turn of all, Jesus the Messiah died on a cross. People simply couldn’t understand how the Messiah could die. It was unfathomable to them. How could the King of Kings die the death of a common criminal?
The birth of Christ was not explosive or dramatic. He was lowly, meek, and tender-hearted. He was near to the brokenhearted. Instead of demanding to be served, He chose to serve others.
In Mark 10:45, Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
In his book Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind The Birth of Jesus, Tim Keller writes:
God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child...The babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.
Because it was the only way He could save us from our sins. He had to die a humiliating, excruciating, substitutionary death for us on the cross. From the moment He was born in a humble manger, He was headed toward the cross.
Jesus, the One whom all the angels adore, became nothing so that He could rescue us. The One who created all things, the immortal God, came as a lowly child.
Aren’t you grateful for the humility of Jesus? Aren’t you glad that Jesus came as a humble servant?
Rooted in Pastor Adrian Rogers' book A Family Christmas Treasury, this Christmas Experience includes a collection of inspiring content, activities to bring your family together, and 31 daily devotions for each day of December. Feel free to pick and choose the days and activities that fit your schedule.
The stunning reality is that even though Jesus is the humble servant, He is also the sovereign Lord. He came meek and mild, tender and lowly. He died the death of a criminal, paying for our sins.
In response, God the Father has exalted Jesus, raising Him from the dead and giving Him the name that is above every name.
He sits upon heaven’s throne, ruling over all things. He is the King of Kings, and eventually, every being in the universe will bow their knee to Him and confess that He is Lord over all.
Philippians 2:8-11 says:
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
At Christmas, we celebrate and worship Jesus as both the humble servant and the Lord over all. We delight in the glorious mystery of the birth of Jesus, of God becoming man in order to bring us to God. We rejoice that He came as a lowly servant and we praise Him that He is exalted as the sovereign Lord.
In “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, we proclaim the words:
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the son of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King !"
Jesus temporarily laid His glory aside, born so that we might no longer die. Born to give us second birth.
The “new-born King” is now highly exalted over all things. His first coming was lowly, His second coming will be glorious. His first coming was beheld by a few, His second coming will be seen by all. He came as a servant, He will come again in glory and power, the sovereign One who rules over all.
So how should we respond to Jesus, our sovereign Lord? Ultimately, everything, including Christmas, is about Him, so what posture of heart should we have this Christmas (and every day)?
Honestly, it’s easy to make Christmas about us. To focus on what we want and having all our expectations met. We can be overly consumed with the trappings of Christmas and forget that Christmas is all about Jesus.
Every aspect of our lives, including our time, finances, relationships, and jobs should be submitted to Jesus. We should seek to obey Him and His word, to honor Him with every aspect of our lives.
This Christmas, let’s seek to freshly submit our hearts and lives and desires to Jesus, the sovereign Lord. Let’s bow our hearts to Jesus, who made Himself nothing for us and is now exalted over all things.
Instead of prioritizing the things we want this Christmas, let’s seek to be servants, just as Jesus served us. Let’s seek to lay our lives down for others, just as Jesus laid His life down for us.
We have been rescued by Jesus. He came to seek and save the lost, and in His immeasurable kindness, He sought us out and saved us. Now we have the privilege of telling others about Jesus.
And Christmas provides unique opportunities to engage with those who don’t know Christ. For many people, Christmas can be an especially difficult time. Instead of feeling holly and jolly, they feel sadness. Instead of experiencing gladness, they experience grief. Instead of feeling loved, they feel lonely. Many people are desperate for hope, and Christmas highlights the desperation they feel.
We can speak the hope of the gospel to people who are hopeless. We can give joy to those who are despondent.
So this Christmas, let us proclaim joy to the world. As we gather with friends and family and coworkers, let’s ask God to give us opportunities to tell others the greatest news of all.
Listen to the Experience Christmas playlist as you and your family take part in these activities.
You can also purchase the Experience Christmas Worship Collection as a digital download or CD to listen offline.