Last year our son, Paul, home from his job at the fruiterer at Wynnum, reported having worked three times his usual hours of overtime. The numbers through the shop had been phenomenal. At times there were so many that they had to carry the cases of fruit over their heads to replenish the stands. The sales for yesterday alone included about two tonnes of watermelon, 180 bunches of shallots, 1 tonne of tomatoes, 1 tonne of bananas, 80 cases of lettuce. Deliveries included nine bags of potatoes a seafood restaurant.
"A voice of one calling, 'In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; a make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God' " (Isaiah 40.3). Hearing those words we think immediately of John the Baptist who called people to repentance and prepared the way for Jesus whose ministry was soon to begin. But they were originally penned by the prophet Isaiah, some eight hundred years earlier. In the previous chapter we hear that the prophet told King Hezekiah how "everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left" (Is.39.6). But that would not be the end of what the Lord would do. After the exile there would be the restoration, the return to the land of promise. The Lord would lead the exiles across the barren places to their homeland again.
That return did happen, of course. But, like so many other passages throughout the Old Testament, the immediate fulfilment wasn't all that happened. The Lord had other long-term purposes to which these words were pointing - the coming of the Messiah. And so they were fulfilled in John the Baptist - used of him and by him - "Get ready, the Lord himself is about to appear!"
It's nearly Christmas Eve. For some time we have been preparing ourselves for this season. In particular we think about the promises of God in the Old Testament and the promises of God to Joseph and Mary. And now it's nearly here! It's all about to happen. What we have been planning for - whether over weeks or like the frantic people I saw yesterday - is almost here.
Remember the game we used to play as children, "Hide and seek"? (I sometimes hear it called "Hindingoseek") . The person who has dutifully had their eyes closed counts to a hundred and then calls out "Coming, ready or not!" And Christmas is "coming, ready or not"! That's what makes us frantic! Are we really ready for it?
The original Christmas was like that too. They didn't realise, of course, that it was Christmas they were getting ready for, had given up expecting God to do anything to fulfil his promises, so they really missed the action! Of course, in retrospect we can justify them. There were good reasons why God was doing it all quietly. Imagine the trouble that would have been caused if all those people in Bethlehem had really realised what was going on, if they had grasped that the Messiah had just been born, if they had understood that God had taken human flesh and come into the history of the world! Shepherds and wise men - that was enough! The suspicions of Herod were almost disastrous.
"Dates, almonds, figs? Yes, Sarah, we still have some left. Just as well we got in extra supplies." "Fish, Miriam? Sorry, we have just sold our last. You could try Benjamin down the road, but with all these crowds he is probably short too." "From Jericho, sir! Safety in numbers on that road today? Yes, we still have some corn - quite a good supply really. Keeps well." "David, go get some extra hay for the stable. With all these travellers coming, we'll have more donkeys than usual to feed." "Oh Anna! Fancy meeting you again! It's a pity it takes occasions like this to get us together!" "Jacob and Judah, stop fighting! I sent you down to the shop. Now, off you go!" "Isaac ... and... Ranah... from... Joppa. Family... Benjamin... Ruth... Adam... Leah... Next!"
Yet in other ways many were never ready, not even when God's act was no longer hidden and quiet but out in the open. Even when John came calling for repentance, they were not ready. Even when Jesus himself appeared teaching about the Kingdom of God, they were not ready. Even when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, they were not ready. And on the day of Pentecost, when the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were clearly proclaimed, they were not ready.
Written across the Old Testament Scriptures and the history of the Jews were the words, "The King is coming! " For the Jews that should have been their expectation. For us we celebrate his incarnation and should be anticipating his coming again.
But suddenly it was no longer a hope projected into the distant future! Suddenly reality had come upon them - the King has come! Yes! It truly happened. Jesus, the long-promised Messiah, came! It wasn't quite the way most of them expected. Born of the virgin Mary in the insignificant town of Bethlehem in the course of a census ordered by the foreign power! And after all that waiting, the Lord's people blew it! "...there was no room for them in the inn."
The King has come! Do we have room for him? It is not a question whether we have space in our year for Christmas, but - do we allow Jesus to be our Saviour, to be our King, every day of the year?