Full confession – I love Christmas. Of course this includes the non-commercialized, reason-for-the-season Christmas. But, it also includes the Christmas-tree-decorating, present-buying, television-special-watching Christmas season. I loved it as a kid. I love it as an adult. To be sure, the surface of my affection has changed a bit, but not the underlying source. Even as a kid, what I enjoyed the most about Christmas was not a particular present per se but that there were going to be gifts given to me and I was going to give gifts to my family. The season involved a break from school, traveling to see and spend time with family, and activities that make you wonder why you don't make time for them during the other 360-some days of the year.

When it comes to the over-commercialization of Christmas, it is helpful to keep in mind that the problem isn't external – as if the season is commercialized simply out of a desire to drain it of its meaning. The clamor for possessions that ensues before October candy has been consumed is simply a response to demand. Christmas is commercialized because our hungry culture wants it to be that way. You can see it dripping from every advertisement and you can hear it whisper in every jingle – the message that this will be the year, this will be the gift in which we are finally fulfilled. The human heart longs to be fulfilled and the mad scramble to fill the void with trinkets is a reflection of that desire – and a vivid portrait of how painfully low are our expectations.

As a child, I can remember the nearly agonizing anticipation of seeing gifts under the tree while knowing I would have to wait to handle the joyous bounty they held. The two days from presentation to possession was an eight-year-old's eternity! Now as an adult, it is this anticipation of hope realized that always reminds me of my favorite portrait of those who were present at the coming of the Messiah. I love the narrative of Simeon and Anna. It is the recording of the lives of these two people that I believe speaks so clearly to the state of men's souls reflected in the amped-up accumulation of commercialized Christmas. When we find ourselves or others wrapped up in the hope of receiving that for which we have pled, it is the greatest of opportunities to recall the true hope, peace, joy and love that was presented at the coming of God's Christ.

You want anticipation? Consider the context in which we find Simeon and Anna. They stood some SEVEN CENTURIES removed from Isaiah's prophecy that to Israel “a child has been born” and “a son has been given” who would sit on the throne of his father David in an unending rule of justice and peace. Though Israel had received this and many other prophecies of a coming redeemer and deliverer, Simeon and Anna were FOUR centuries removed from any prophetic voice from God! I don't need to tell you that the anticipation of two days waiting for a plush Snoopy toy pales in comparison. And yet, we find these two as examples of those who were believing and waiting, trusting in the promises of the God who had chosen them.

In Luke 2:25 we meet Simeon. He was a righteous and devout man who is described as “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” He was one in a long line of faithful men and women who knew the promises of God and lived their life observing His law as they waited for His promises to be revealed. Except Simeon had actually received a word. The Holy Spirit had told him (Luke 2:26) that he would see the Lord's Christ! He would, with his own eyes, behold the gift promised by God centuries before! Can you imagine the anticipation that grew in Simeon's soul at that revelation?! We aren't given an indication of how much time lapsed between the word from the Holy Spirit and the day that Mary and Joseph brought the baby to the Temple. We do not know how many days Simeon went to the Temple in expectation. But we know this – he went. He was there. He was waiting and looking. THE GIFT was finally going to arrive!

I imagine that you have probably given an great gift to someone in the past. You were probably overjoyed to see the recipient's surprise and thankfulness for an extravagant gift. But I don't care what it was that you gave, I am certain their response was not on par with the response we hear from Simeon at taking into his arms the revealed promise of God Almighty:

Luke 2:29-32 "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."

Simeon says, in essence, "I can die now." The world's peace and joy had come. The light and glory of God had come into the world. There would be not other. There was no need to wait any longer.

Similarly, in Luke 2:36, we meet a prophetess named Anna who was a long-time widow. Rather than give herself to any number of activities, Anna could be found – day and night – fasting and praying at the temple, waiting for the coming of the redemption of Israel. Until, that is, the day that the baby Jesus was brought to the temple. "And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). Hour upon hour of worshipping in prayer and fasting was spent – now the wait was over. The gift of God had arrived! The hour had come to cease from her prayer and fasting and to begin to give thanks and tell all who were waiting that redemption had come!

Gift-giving at Christmas doesn't bother me. While the world and the lusts of its aching heart may run after objects of hope that light up and require batteries, the minuscule anticipation of ribbons and bows serves to remind me that these things contain no true hope. They will add nothing to my joy. And, for those who have ears to hear, the hope and joy that hearts truly desire is a gift that has already been given.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes of all time. In his great work, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes:

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased."

In a season often filled with hope in fleeting treasure, use the opportunity to tell the story of true anticipation and an everlasting gift of eternal hope. Be pleased with nothing less.

Jay Sampson is the Teaching Elder at Heritage Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma where he pastors literally tens of people every week. A father of three and aspiring fantasy baseball champion, Jay has been teaching at Heritage since 2007. Weekly podcasts can be found at www.heritageshawnee.org.

Publication date: December 22, 2013