Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you. A just savior is he, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
The holidays are tough. I don’t just mean for me, I mean for most people. As excited as we might be about Thanksgiving pies and Christmas carols and gifts and sales and spending time with family and hot chocolate in front of a fireplace, I don’t think there are a lot of people who don’t feel more acutely at Christmas the longing they manage to ignore the rest of the year.
Maybe this is your first (or fiftieth) Christmas without a loved one and every ornament twists the knife of grief in your already tender heart. Maybe the stories of John and Jesus’ miraculous conceptions don’t make it any easier as you gaze, womb and arms empty, at the little bowties and smocked dresses on the impossibly precious children of your friends and family. Maybe your children’s stockings are going empty this year as Christmas money goes to pay bills labeled “Final Notice.” Maybe every sappy Christmas movie you watch reminds you how very alone you are. Maybe a table covered with Christmas letters packed full of awards and accomplishments makes your son’s addiction or your daughter’s estrangement that much more painful. Maybe it’s an unbelieving family, a broken relationship, a Christmas list nobody cares to look at. The holidays are tough.
And here’s Paul, blithely proclaiming that God will give you everything you need. Oh, yeah? Tell that to the widows, the prisoners, the desperately lonely. Come on, Paul. That’s not how this works.
It might help us to remember that Paul wrote this epistle while in prison. In 2 Corinthians 11, he reminds his readers that this imprisonment was not the only suffering he endured: scourged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked—and that’s just scratching the surface. Paul’s no Pollyanna when he promises that God will provide, he’s a man of the cross who trusts God not to be Santa but to be God.
God won’t give you everything you want, nor everything you’re convinced you need. But each Advent we’re reminded that he gave us everything we needed, and far more than we deserved, in the incarnation of the Son.
It didn’t look like much, this exhausted woman hunkering down in a stable to bring her child into the world.
Even much-maligned shepherds may have raised an eyebrow when heavenly beings singing Gloria directed them to a manger in Nazareth. But when they saw him they worshiped.
Simeon can’t have expected that the coming Messiah would be a pauper’s child, nor that the baby he rejoiced over was God made man. But still he lifted his eyes to the Father, declaring that this child was the salvation of the world and all he needed in this life.
When the Savior entered Jerusalem not in a litter or a chariot or astride an elephant but meek and riding on a donkey, one would expect the jubilant crowds to pause, to wonder, even to scoff. But they knew what had been foretold and so even they, who would demand his execution days later, saw in him the answer to their prayers.
It seems that God is in the habit of answering our unspoken prayers in unexpected ways. The people Jesus came to save were seeking freedom from the Roman oppressor; never did they dream of freedom from sin and death. They were longing for bodily healing but had no idea they could ask for their broken hearts to be made new. They mourned the dead without ever hoping they would be restored to life. And in response to their desperate entreaties, Jesus occasionally said yes. But time and again, it seems, he said no. He did not heal them, did not speak to them, did not raise their dead. Yet while denying their desires, he fully supplied their need.
The holidays are tough. But as we prepare for Christmas, we fix our eyes on an unexpected answer to an unspoken prayer. We exult and shout for joy when we look upon our just and humble Savior, meek and riding on a donkey. This joy isn’t just over an event long past, though; it’s a response to our answered prayer today. To the lost he is a home, to the lonely he is true love, to those who mourn he is eternal life, and to the failure he is meaning and purpose. Whatever you’re longing for, St. John Paul II reminds us, it is Jesus you seek. As we look forward, with dread or joy, to Christmas, ask yourself: what is it I’m really longing for? And how does the coming of Christ supply that need?
From one wounded heart to another, I wish you joy in the newborn Christ, who is all you need.