For years there had been a whispered rumor heard throughout the earth that a Deliverer was about to rise up -- a Deliverer who had been promised since the beginning of the world. Perhaps it would be a powerful man, or a great king, or a wise man or mighty conqueror. He would return justice to the world that had been unfair for so long, and begin a reign of peace that would last forever.
The hearts of everyone who heard the rumor thrilled with excitement.
After all, who is so dense that he doesn't realize how wretched he is?
Who doesn't look around and see that things should be better than they are?
The people on the earth were only too aware of this. Death, sickness, endless hard labor, work done in vain, love that's not returned, stronger people triumphing over those who are right, wars, troubles, divided families, and a thousand other miseries of life--in every era, these things had plagued everyone from year to year.
From one generation to the next, each person, as he became conscious of reason, came to realize the bitter, tragic fact that something was wrong with the world of his own time. At the same time, some strong instinct in his soul told him that it hadn't always been this way, and that it wouldn't be this way forever.
So the whispered rumor about a Deliverer came to their hearts like a promise that better things were going to come. The rumor was vague and not very clear. Different people interpreted it in different ways, depending on their individual wishes and feelings. The one thing they all agreed on was that when this Mighty One arrived, sadness and evil would disappear, and joy and peace would spread across the earth in the same way water covers the oceans.
A Deliverer! If he didn't deliver them from death itself which they all hated with every instinct of their being, then at least he would probably deliver them from the wearying sicknesses that made life hard even for the young.
And he'd deliver them from work that was hard enough to prevent even strong men from living an easy, comfortable life.
He'd deliver them from disappointments that wrenched their most sensitive emotions, and the chains of unfair abuse, and the conflict of divisive politics and lying gossips, and the weakness of their own souls that left them vulnerable to their own evil thoughts and thousands of other temptations.
The truth is, life in the world they were living in was tiresome even in the smoothest of times. "Oh, I wish there was a Deliverer!" was the private cry of each person's heart as his own particular hardship wore him down. If only the everlasting doors would be lifted up so that the King of Glory might come in and touch the earth with his magic scepter and restore everything back to order and joy!
They knew that this Mighty One, whoever he was, would have different names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The burden of governing would be his responsibility, even though he would be a Son, and be born as a child.
Where could such a person be found but in a palace?
Where else would such a person be brought up?
His father would surely be a king, and the mother who nursed him would surely be a queen. What happy parents, to be blessed with such a child!
Who would be great enough for such an honor? Who could be so highly favored?
And yet, great as the parents would be, this child would be greater and more powerful even than they, he would rule over and triumph over everyone, even them! He would be the King of Kings, and the Lords of Lords. No wonder hopeful eyes watched palaces for signs of him! No wonder everyone asked, "Is this the one?" every time a newborn prince's first cry was heard within the palaces. No wonder prophets and poets sang in anticipation of his fame!
But these newborn princes grew up to be common men, and they suffered and sinned like everyone else.
Hope began to fail, but it wasn't totally extinguished. People continued to look for the Deliverer just like they had always done.
Some, though, thought that Wonderful, Counsellor had a different meaning and other purpose. They wondered if he might be kingly and deliverer because of his influence and character, without actually being a literal royal king. Perhaps his kingly virtue would be Reason, man's most noble ability, and he would use it to overthrow earthly kings. His deliverance would thus be the victory of mental intelligence over material things, and his rule would be using his brilliance to defeat violence and force.
One poor wise man saved a city but was not thanked or honored for his good deed--that just showed how unfair this world was. But that would soon change. People hadn't wasted their time or pondered who this Deliverer might be for nothing, not if the time was at hand. Soon he would be exalted as the world's Counsellor who was wise enough to rule the world. He would be Wonderful because of the greatness of his mind.
As wise men and philosophers thought about these things, hope burned in their hearts and made them devoted to him, whoever he was. And they began to pray to this mysterious Deliverer, asking that the Wonderful Counsellor would bring them light and truth, and conquer ignorance and errors in the world.
If only that day would come, when the majestic ability of the human mind would be revealed, and ignorant people would see all of its magnificence! The mind is the only thing great enough to warrant such an important position and the only thing appropriate to rule the whole world.
But year after year, wise men died like everyone else, and their children died after them.
A Deliverer had not risen up from among them, so they continued looking.
Some latched onto the title "Prince of Peace," and thought everything could be explained by that. The conquering mentioned about him must mean that he would conquer and overcome strife. The superiority of Love would overcome all desires for conflict and everyone would work towards universal joy.
Surely when this Deliverer came, he would be able to make everyone happy and pour a healing tonic on every wound. Then all old sadnesses would be forgotten, and people's frustrated minds would be calmed, no longer troubled with struggles and difficult effort.
If only that day would come when every man would be his own king and kingdom, and the songs of rejoicing that gladdened the golden age could be heard all over the world!
Isn't that what the prophets had said, and the poets had sung?
Then every person would have his own grape vine and fig tree to sit under, and there would be no more poor or rich people because everybody would be equal, and everyone would be happy.
But when could they expect this Deliverer? Where would he come from?
It would probably be in an unusually blessed part of the world, perhaps some beautiful, peaceful valley such as Cashmere, nestled among the mountains of India. He would undoubtedly be living among a community of simple, contented people in a perfect family who never experienced turmoil and lived in happy harmony with each other.
Such a person could only come from this kind of blissful, peaceful background--the kind of person who would cause harsh weapons of war to be turned into tools for farming the land, and would cause plants, animals and even rocks to join together in one general song of joy.
So those who took that view looked for the Deliverer in peaceful valleys and quiet places where no disagreement ever happened.
But they had no better luck--they kept on looking and waiting, and hoped Nature itself would confirm their hopes.
The non-living elements of the world became aware that some great event was going to happen. The earth, which had suffered and decayed under the ancient curse, listened to the whispered rumors. And every spring, as she dressed herself in beautiful greenery and flowers, a hint of the Mighty One who would restore earth's lost glories and make her young again was felt through every pulse of her.
Earth didn't care about mankind's different expectations about this Deliverer. "It's not important how He comes," she said, "whether as a king, or conqueror, or sage, or God. In my bloom and beauty, I'm making myself ready for his coming. This way I'll be worthy to meet my Lord and King! When he arrives, all the hills will leap with happiness, the valleys will laugh and sing, and the trees in the forests will rejoice!"
So every spring, the earth dressed herself in hope. Every summer, she glowed with golden anticipation. But many springs and summers came and went, and no Deliverer had arrived. And when the sap chilled and returned to the roots of the trees for winter, and the flowers died and the leaves fell from the trees, and a stillness like death came over the earth for a while, she wept tears of regret as she said her good-byes for the season. Yet she said, "when the new spring comes, there will be hope again." The earth repeated these words, but with the cold, lonely winter upon her, she didn't feel very confident and she showed no signs of hope. Only the evergreen trees could cheer her up. They said, "while you can't have anything better, you can at least enjoy us. At any rate, let our green needles remind you of the spring that's coming."
But men and earth were both on the wrong track.
Even while darkness was blinding the minds of men, and earth was locked in the deadness of winter, when common people were focusing their search on earthly palaces, and wise men were trying to find a clue in earthly wisdom, while those who lived for pleasure hoped that the Deliverer would usher in earthly delights--the truth was, God had chosen to use "the foolish things of the world to confuse the wise," and the weak things of the world to overturn the powerful things. God had chosen the common, unimportant things, and the things that are passed over so that "no person should have glory in God's presence."
You prisoners looking for hope, stop looking at grand, earthly wonders!
Turn away from the confidence of mere earthly wisdom!
Generations after generations of people had lived their lives and died, and the whole world was still lying in wickedness because "God, in His wisdom, did not allow the world to discover Him by using its worldly wisdom." And He doesn't call many people who are wise in earthly things, or powerful, or from important families.
And then, wonder of wonders, at an inn in a village, in the stable where animals typically sleep and rest, a tired young woman who had walked a long way laid down because she couldn't find room anywhere else. And listen to the crying of a brand new baby that came from inside that stable, unnoticed by the busy world outside!
This young mother's first-born baby, whose husband had to work hard to support them --
what difference did this common birth make to anyone?
And yet--listen to another cry rising while the insignificant baby wails!
It's a cry of thanksgiving and praise! "Glory to God in the highest! On earth, peace and good-will to men!" "In the city of David a Savior has been born to you--he is Christ the Lord!"
And who was singing this joyful Hosanna? It was the angels of heaven!
What a day of glory and delight! The Deliverer had finally come!
The long-awaited day of redemption had arrived!
But what important sign was there to signify that this was the long-expected Mighty One? Were there royal parents to welcome him? Were there wise men there to confirm that this was the child?
No! The news was announced with the shining glory of the Lord to dirty, poor shepherds who slept in the fields keeping an eye on their sheep all night.
And how would they know the child when they saw him?
He would be the one they found wrapped on strips of cloth and lying in an animals' feed box.
Oh, ignorant people, and ignorant earth!
When the crying of that tiny, helpless infant broke out in the stable outside the inn, who, unless God had told him, could possibly have dreamed that at that very moment, and in that unexpected way, the One that all the nations desired so much had finally come?
Yes, because God had decided that it should be at that very moment, and in that very way. This was how it should be, as an example to people of how God works.
That's right, he came in poverty and humble surroundings. He came in that very way while Nature was paralyzed and hopeless, and half the world was covered in freezing snow. He came in just that way, with healing on His wings--but not the kind of healing they were looking for. It wasn't deliverance from death or sadness, or freedom from work and pain, not even a payment to take away temptation and sin--but, by God's strength and wisdom, and by the power of His Spirit, he came to make people "more than conquerors" through all of those things.
We have a tendency to look for supernatural signs and miraculous wonders; we look for things we can see with our eyes, or experiences that make logical sense. When we don't get those things, we get discouraged and give up hope.
But so many times, again and again, this lesson of God's coming is repeated: God doesn't always make His presence known to us in the place we expect and in the way we're looking for.
He doesn't always come during the times when we're expectant and deliberate about finding Him. He doesn't always come when we confidently say, "I am ready to meet God because I've done this or that worthwhile thing."
So go ahead and hang up holly and lights and tinsel over the winter landscape to remember the hope that human intelligence could never teach anyone. The Comforter did not arrive during the glorious days of summer. No, He came to His people when it was cold and dark.
When our souls are cold and ashamed, when we stop putting any stock in the good things we've done, that might be when He'll come to us.
If human logic and research can't find Him, maybe that's when He'll reveal Himself to those with pure, simple hearts.
When important men's expectations come to nothing, that may be the time when He comes with healing on His wings to the soul of the poor and humble person.
The Deliverer is one of many stories written by Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) from her "Parables From Nature" collection which is in the public domain.
Gatty is a treasured author who wrote children's literature and about marine biology from a believer's perspective.