“Sages leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar; seek the great desire of nations, ye have seen his natal star…(LSB 367, Angels from the Realms of Glory St. 3)”
“O Come, Desire of Nations bind in one the hearts of all mankind…(LSB 357 O Come, O Come, Immanuel St 7)”
This is not pulpit worthy, at least not yet. First because it is more an intuition than something well discerned. And second because there are so many ways it can go wrong. But desire is something fundamentally bound to Christmas.
When we are younger that desire is stoked by the wonders of the season. All the lights. The decorations coming out. A tree in the house! Cookies and just the pace of life. Before you even get to presents and Santa, a two-year old is attuned to the desire of the season. They are sad to see everything packed away. As we get older that desire moves on to: “What am I going to get?” It might be here that we start to understand something about desire. Whatever physical thing you get, the satisfaction doesn’t last that long. As soon as you get the Toy of the Year, it breaks. As soon as you open the X-box, desire moves to having the next game.
Desires of adults around the season might even be more complicated. Christmas might be the first time parents meet the new boyfriend/girlfriend. And the strange mix of desires all of that stirs up in both parents and children. Desires to give the children a “good Christmas” which gets harder each year, until it really is impossible. Desires for a gathering of the clan and a nostalgia for when everything was together. And it is not that any of these desires are necessarily bad. They might be appropriate in their seasons. And there are better and worse satisfactions of them. But if you pay close attention to the desires of season, they all tend to increase the restlessness. We place our hopes on things that can’t bear the weight, even if they are good things. Which if we are honest they often aren’t. Our desires are often that our wills would override the wills of others. That the world would stop and satisfy me.
What Christmas does is start to train our desires, in the words of a great prayer so that we “pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal.” It is not the fact of desire that is our problem; it is often the type of satisfaction we expect from what our hearts desire. We often place eternal desires on temporal things which can’t do anything but buckle under the weight.
The hymnwriters get this. Even if one is a sage and supposedly trained their desires for higher things, even those ideologies and deep desires are not the proper object. Brighter visions beam afar. All earthly desires should point us to our great desire. To know our creator and be known by Him. Christmas is that creator coming to us in order to be known. Christmas is that creator not just knowing us, but loving us.
Everything else we place our desires upon ultimately fails. It is only God who is an infinite source of satisfaction. As Augustine said, “we are restless, until we find our rest in thee.” So much of life is about training ourselves to have the right desires. To binding our hearts to those things which do bring peace. When the manger orders our desires, when we come and worship the Christ the newborn King, we allow Him to satisfy our deepest desires setting our hearts at peace so that we might rightly receive all the rest of the gifts of his providence. When we receive first the eternal, the temporal adorns it like so many perfect ornaments. Even the broken ones which speak of a day of mending.