One of my favorite memories of Christmas festivities is the making of wish lists. Several department stores sent out a “wish list” toy catalog each year, but none surpassed the Sears catalog. I spent hours pouring over the pictures and descriptions. I bent the corner of pages with potential “wish list” items for future review. Then I would visualize playing with those particular toys. The toys in my dreams were more fun than anything I ever could receive for Christmas.
There is a profound lesson here. In the wish list, the child uses the imagination to cultivate a sense of longing. This longing may start with a specific toy or any specific thing or even a specific person or a specific place. But our imagination presents a perfect or ideal image of the thing we desire—and the actual reality can never meet our expectations. And we experience disappointment.
One year, I saw a little record player recorder that supposedly could cut records. In other words, I could make my own recordings. This delightful toy bordered on the miraculous, and I dreamed of creating my own albums much to the amazement of friends and family all around. This toy topped this list. It was too good to be true. And it probably was, but I’ll never know because I never got this gift.
One thing a child must learn early is that there is no direct correlation between the wish list and the gifts received on Christmas morning. Inevitably, as delight and wonder envelope children everywhere, disappointment still lurks in the background. Nothing can ever really live up to our expectations or imaginations. And though some adults this year, like every year, will scold their children for selfishness, they too suffer from disappointments in other adults, in relationships, in job situations, in family matters and more. Disappointment is a very real and important part of longing.
I believe our idealized longing, is ultimately reaching out for a city not made by hands: a place and time that truly is just out of reach. Some might say that this type of longing is really a longing for the womb: a place where we were connected, completely safe and satisfied. In fact, some suggest that our delight with the sound of rushing waters from oceans to rivers to creeks is because the earliest sounds we knew in the womb were in liquid.
I believe the longing is not necessarily a looking back but a yearning forward. It is the hope, the longing, the yearning for the possibility that one day the happily ever after really will come true. Our best fairy tales end in a place just beyond the reach of real life. Nobody really experiences happily ever after in the here and now. They can’t. No one and nothing can meet our expectations.
We cannot even meet our own expectations. We vow to follow a new diet or a new exercise plan. We vow to be kind, to be more loving, to live selflessly. But we fall and fail. We cannot live up to our own standards, and if think we do, I assure someone else can look into our life and point out how we fail to meet their standards. Everyone falls short. Thus disappointment is inevitable.
The Hebrew prophets experienced disappointments as well. They watched a people, a nation move from reliance on God to political maneuvering and intrigue: and in the process. becoming a captive people. But many of them continue to cultivate a longing for a time when this kingdom of God would be realized in fullness. They describe this kingdom in ways that are still hard for us to imagine. The world is in perfect harmony: natural enemies are at peace. Political foes embrace; weapons of destructions are transformed into tools for nurturing and healing—even the lion lays down with the lamb.
Their lasting and profound vision of world harmony continues to reverberate throughout our world. Though far from perfect, the United Nations was created with this vision in mind and a quote from Isaiah still adorns the front of the offices in New York. But our flawed attempts fall short of Isaiah’s full vision. He describes a world only God can restore.
And this is the hope of Jews and Christians alike. We strain forward to a world of absolute perfect harmony. While past histories shape us, we are actually energized by the future. We long for God’s kingdom fully realized. Every week, Christians every where will pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…” They are praying for nothing short of absolute and perfect harmony in the heavens and on the earth.
Instead of relegating these dreams to a Never Never Land of childhood fantasy, this Christmas we might began to dream of an Ever Ever Land. We might get out those wish lists and dream of a world perfected in love and grace. Where commerce is not based on who can take advantage of who, but all our exchanges are based on blessing and love.
While our earthly dreams are subject to fail and disappoint, the prophets revealed that we could never out dream the kingdom. Inevitably it will exceed all hopes and expectations. It is better than anything we could have ever hoped. This dream of God’s perfectly realized love drives us forward and gives us energy to live out of that kingdom now. Thus Jesus says that the world would know his disciples by their love one for another.
As we live with a vision and a longing of the kingdom, we trust in God’s faithfulness to reveal this kingdom and relate on the basis of an abundance of His love. We don’t have to scrape and steal and oppress others to get ahead. For our confidence is not the shifting sands of the present moment but in a coming kingdom that cannot fail. Thus we are free to love and lay down our lives for those around us. In fact, we are free to be seen as fools for the sake Christ. Fools because we have abandoned the way of a world that suggests that if I don’t look out for myself, others will take advantage of me. Fools because we choose to return love for hate, peace for war, kindness for anger and healing for hurting.
This Christmas may we begin to live out our wish lists and live what we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”