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Christ was born into a spiritually thirsty world

In the Christmas season – when there’s lots of eating and drinking – we must ensure that we thirst for the right things, writes Glasgow Elim’s James Glass.

According to the Coca-Cola archives, our current image of Santa Claus is largely shaped by the Coca-Cola Santa who first appeared in the 1930s. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? The image was part of an advertising campaign that began in 1922.

Coca-Cola executives were concerned that Coke was seen as a seasonal beverage – something you only drank in the summer. To counter this they came up with the slogan ‘Thirst knows no season’.

In their attempts to make sure people kept buying their fizzy drinks, the marketing people at Coca-Cola unwittingly stumbled on a spiritual truth: thirst transcends history, culture and politics.

Even brief reflection on the events surrounding the first Christmas reveals that Christ came into a world that was spiritually thirsty.

It was a time of political uncertainty. Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor, had done much to restore order to the Roman world, but there were already signs that he would be unable to fulfil the high hopes of his people.

Herod, who features so largely in the nativity story, had a reputation for psychopathic cruelty. His slaughter of boys under two years of age in the Bethlehem area was unfortunately not out of character.

And if you add into the mix the promise of the Messiah, it’s not hard to see how people might channel their frustrations and longings into any group or individual who claimed to represent the Messianic ideal.

This spiritual thirst wasn’t just a general thing. It was evident in the lives of all sorts of individuals from all kinds of backgrounds. But what does spiritual thirst look like?

The call

Spiritual thirst hears a call when others only hear an announcement. No nativity play is complete without shepherds featuring tea towels wrapped around their heads! However, the innocent portrayal belies the tough life of a shepherd in the time of Christ. The work was hard work. You worked in the day; you worked at night.

Shepherds of that time had little or no social standing. For example, their evidence was inadmissible in court.

Yet some of the first people God reaches out to at the first Christmas are shepherds. They saw the angels. They heard the announcement of Jesus’ birth and took it as a call to go to Bethlehem, (Luke 2:9-15). They didn’t allow their position on the fringe of society to edge them out of an encounter with the newborn king in Bethlehem.

Spiritual thirst hears a call where others only hear a statement. Spiritual thirst refuses to allow our perceived place in society to make us doubt our position before the King.

Pursuing curiosity

Spiritual thirst can also push us to pursue curiosity. The magi from the East set out on their journey because they were curious about a star they had never seen before.

They set out knowing only that a king had been born (Matthew 2:1-2). They didn’t know where the star would take them. And, presumably, they didn’t know how long the journey would take. They were prepared to allow their lives to be completely disrupted because their curiosity had been triggered by the appearance of a star that heralded the birth of a king. The story of the magi becomes more fascinating the more you reflect on it.

Whatever the religious and ethnic status of the magi, it is fair to say that they were way outside of the circle of orthodox Jewish religious faith. The manner in which they are prompted to make the journey to Bethlehem indicates that God meets thirsty people where they are and leads them in ways that are familiar to them.

How ironic that these men from the East who have no recorded knowledge of the Scriptures have a greater thirst for God and a greater grasp of his purposes than the religious leaders in Herod’s palace with their open Bibles.

We live in what many would regard as a post-Christian culture that has minimal knowledge of the Bible.

The creative way in which God sparks the spiritual curiosity of the magi encourages us to expect God to be at work way beyond the normal parameters of church or even orthodox Christian practice and experience.

Not that they arrived at Bethlehem without any diversions.

The fruitless visit to Herod’s palace could have drawn a line under their adventure and made them turn back home. Instead, they kept going. They didn’t know that they were only six miles from their destination. How tragic if they had travelled hundreds of miles only to turn back with just a few miles to go!

If you’re feeling like giving up this Christmas, let your spiritual thirst and curiosity kick in again and watch as God takes you into what he has for you ‘just down the road’.

Conviction-driven

Spiritual thirst also makes us conviction driven. Two of the most conviction-driven people in the whole Bible are Simeon and Anna.

All their lives, they have been waiting for the Messiah. Once Simeon has held Jesus in his arms, he is ready to go home to heaven (Luke 2:28). He has fulfilled his life’s goal.

Anna the prophetess. Eighty-four years of age. Widowed after only seven years of marriage, and waiting for Messiah (Luke 2:36-37). Her encounter with Jesus released a whole new excitement for the things of God (Luke 2:38).

The conviction that God is at work and wants to do greater things creates a thirst for connection with him. That thirst can become more consuming than the decline in natural strength, as in the case of Simeon, that ageing inevitably brings. It can create a resilience that causes us to bounce back, like Anna, in the face of setback and bitter disappointment.

Coca-Cola got it right: thirst knows no season. When we engage with our thirst, God propels us into a fresh encounter with Jesus – our Saviour himself said as much (John 7:37-39). As you reflect on the birth of Christ this Christmas, may you find a new thirst for him forming in your soul.

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