Advent is a time of expectation. What are you hoping for this year? In our culture the expectation is that it is should be a joyful time of gift-giving and gift-receiving and warm family moments. For some it is just another fifty things to add to an already burgeoning to-do list. For others it is a reminder of loneliness and dashed expectations. But we go ahead and shop and prepare and some put up manger scenes and we can’t help hearing Christmas carols, and we hope that somehow this Christmas our deep longings for belonging, and joy, and true satisfaction will be met.
Is there anything more to this than just an attempt to show a little kindness and cheer ourselves up?
To answer that question I am going to ask another question concerning 3 different women in 3 different eras. What do an outcast Egyptian slave woman, and a Samaritan woman (despised by Jews and shunned by her own townspeople), and a drug-addicted street prostitute have in common?
First, travel back in time with me to about 2000 B.C. We see Hagar, the slave of Abraham’s wife Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were old, past the age of child-bearing, yet God had promised them a son. It took a long time and Sarah got impatient and following the custom of the day, she gave Hagar to Abraham in the hopes that she would have a child by her. But when Hagar conceived she despised Sarah and Sarah treated her so harshly that Hagar fled into the wilderness. There, we are told, the angel of the Lord found her. He encouraged her to return to Sarah and promised that she would have numerous descendants. Hagar responded saying, “You are a God who sees” and “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.” She returned to Sarah and bore her son Ishmael (which means “God hears”). But after Sarah herself bore Isaac, the son that had been promised, Hagar and Ishmael were once more cast out into the wilderness after Ishmael mocked Sarah’s son. This time, they ran out of water and were dying of thirst. Hagar sat herself down at a distance from Ishmael for she could not bear to watch him die. Once again, we are told that “God heard the voice of the boy” and affirmed the promise made years ago. Then we are told that “God opened her eyes” and she saw a well of water which enabled them to survive and thrive.
We see here God’s care for an outcast foreigner and her son, taking the initiative to reveal Himself as a God who sees and hears and fulfills promises.
Fast forward to about 30 A.D. Here we come to another well and another woman, this time in Samaria, just north of Jerusalem. We don’t know her name, but we do know the Samaritans had Jewish origins but were despised by the Jews because of their mixed heritage. Jesus is on his way north from Judea to Galilee, and Samaria lay between those two places. The Scripture says he “had to” pass through Samaria. In fact, he could have bypassed Samaria by taking a longer route, as did many strict Jews who saw the Samaritans as unclean.
Jesus, weary from His journey, sits by the well at noontime, just in time to see a woman coming to draw water in the heat of the day. Women normally came to the well in the cool of morning or evening, but because she was considered an immoral woman, she comes when no one else is likely to be there. Jesus’ disciples have gone into town for food. So it is just the woman and Jesus.
He asks her for a drink, surprising her. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus gives an even more surprising response, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“Sir,” she says, “give me this water, so I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” obviously thinking in material terms. But then the conversation turns to more than her physical thirst when Jesus tells her to “Go, call your husband,” to which she responds “I have no husband.”
She is astonished when Jesus reveals that He knows she has had 5 husbands and that the man she is now living with is not her husband. She has been striving to satisfy her inner thirst through relationship after relationship. “I perceive you are a prophet,” she says, and turns the topic to the place of worship, an important for the Jews. Jesus tells her that God is “seeking true worshipers who must worship Him is spirit and in truth.” He implies that worship is primarily a matter of the heart, rather than of place. Not knowing what to do with this surprising statement she speaks of the Messiah, who when He comes, will “tell us all things.”
In the most surprising statement of all, Jesus asserts, “I who speak to you am He.”
When Jesus’ disciples return (‘marveling, we are told, that he was talking with a woman), she goes into town inviting the people to “Come see the man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
The Bible makes an astonishing claim—that Jesus is God. The Person who heard and saw Hagar in the wilderness is the same Person who, to accomplish His purpose, “had to” pass through Samaria and await a Samaritan woman at a well. Neither of these women were seeking for God, but God sought them. Why? For the purpose of demonstrating His care and love to women who were outcast, shunned, and thirsty in more ways than one.
The Bible asserts that the baby in the manger is God in human flesh. That he exchanged His glory for human frailty, exchanged His life for ours suffering in our place on the cross. Why? For our sakes. The Bible says, Romans 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And again it says,2 Cor. 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Theologians call this the Great Exchange, transacted for the purpose of bringing us into a loving relationship with Himself.
That is what the very first Christmas was all about.
We just had an exchange—a gift exchange of not too costly ornaments, but the exchange Christ made for our sakes is of inestimable value, demonstrating His great love for us and our great worth in His eyes.
What about us today? I want to close by telling the story of a modern-day woman, Autumn. Autumn was trapped. Her daily reality consisted of selling her body on the streets to earn $300, the amount she needed to feed her heroin addiction. She ended up in prison and it was there she met Jesus through caring people who visited the prisoners. Once Autumn got out of prison, she left her old life—for good. It was exceedingly difficult, but one thing God showed her was that she had incredible worth in his eyes; a thought entirely at odds with how people in her past life had seen her. This realization set her free from the bondage of her previous [and self-destructive] lifestyle and opened the door for her to see God had a bigger purpose for her. In Autumn’s words, “Today if anyone were to ask me what I’m worth, I’d say I’m worth way more than $300 a day. I now know that I’m priceless!”
Christmas is coming. Maybe we should take time to contemplate the main character of that first Christmas, the baby in the manger. We might ask, as the Samaritan woman asked, “Can this be the Christ?” If so, then there is the amazing, astonishing possibility of relationship with the living God—a relationship that can satisfy the deep longings of our heart for belonging, joy, forgiveness, and true satisfaction in this life and for eternity.
Prayer: Your Word speaks of faith as a gift. You opened the eyes of Hagar in the wilderness to see your provision of the well, revealed yourself to the Samaritan woman as the Messiah who gives living water, and to Autumn as a God who meets us in our darkest hour to bring us freedom and new life. Give us eyes to see more clearly what Christmas is all about, to perceive that which we could not see before. Thank you for your many blessings to us and especially for your mercy, your grace, and your love.