John 12:20-21 “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”
This is a season of the year for wanting things. When I was little my Christmas lists were incredible: two or three pages of spiral bound notebook paper filled with requests thanks to ideas I got from the J. C. Penney Christmas Catalog. My wish lists have gotten more modest since I have gotten older, but I would be lying if I told you I didn’t really want to get some of the things on my list.
It’s not just the gifts that make this a season for wanting. This season promotes nearly hedonistic indulgence. Between now and December 25th there are things we want to taste– cookies and sweets and snacks and feasts. There are things we want to hear– Christmas carols and concerts and the happy sounds of gatherings and parties. There are things that we want to see– Christmas lights and seasonal cartoons, sentimental old holiday movies and maybe even an inch or two of snow.
The Greek men who came to Philip wanted to see Jesus himself. How they had heard of him, or why they wanted to see him, we are not specifically told. They simply make the request, “We would like to see Jesus.” Were they curiosity seekers? Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday had created quite a stir. Maybe they even witnessed the royal welcome the crowds gave him. Maybe they had heard reports of Jesus’ miracle working and hoped that they might get to see something miraculous done by him.
Were they seekers of a more spiritual sort? Maybe they wanted an audience with Jesus to ask him their questions about God and religion. Maybe they were still trying to find certainty for their faith. Maybe they were seeking salvation.
A common Christmas slogan asserts, “Wise men still seek him.” Why? Why is this still our wish, a couple of thousand years later?
Maybe it’s because the Christ child adds that sentimental touch to our Christmas celebration. The Fourth of July isn’t complete until you’ve gone to see the fireworks. Thanksgiving isn’t complete until you’ve had your turkey and pumpkin pie. A trip to Disney World isn’t complete until you’ve had your picture taken with the Mouse. And Christmas isn’t complete until we have spent some time hearing about that poor little baby who got such a terrible start in the world. It’s a story that tugs at the heart strings, just like hearing about Tiny Tim Cratchett in Dickens A Christmas Carol, or George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.
Then we have reduced Jesus to a seasonal prop. He comes out with the other decorations after Thanksgiving and can just as easily be put back in the closet shortly after New Year. He gives us a warm, cozy feeling, but there is no lasting impact on my heart or life. I experience no soul searching as I ponder my depravity. I find no encounter with God in the face of Jesus, no sweet taste of his grace. Then Jesus is less the object of our worship and more a pleasant diversion. Jesus as Christmas decoration is a subtle example of what God had in mind when he commanded, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” It is a vain, useless, and evil thing to reduce the Savior of the World to an ornament or a good feeling.
But what if our desire to see Jesus this Christmas is because we know what he will be doing on Good Friday and Easter? What if we want to see him because a deeper, more desperate need haunts our souls and troubles our consciences?
Maybe we have been able to hide our mean, twisted and perverted selves from the mutual admiration society we have gathered around us. We haven’t been able to hide it from ourselves. And we haven’t been able to hide it from God. When we consider that God knows– he knows every curse whispered under our breaths, every hateful urge we have choked back, every lustful glance, every perverted daydream– we know our situation is critical. Our sin-sickness is terminal. We want more than a cute baby, then. We want to see a gracious Savior, a heroic and self-sacrificing Champion, who can bring forgiveness where there is sin, life where there is death, and heaven where there is hell.
There is no deeper reason for our desire to see Jesus this season.