“We Want Barabbas” – a Christmas Reflection

$363 Billion dollars a year.

A friend recently told me that is the amount of money spent by the US Media Industry to purchase the attention of Americans. To purchase your attention. Mine.

The result?

Mixed messages.
Biased news.
Distraction.
Overspending.
Oversaturation.
Overstimulation.

And we wonder why we are tired!

It’s Christmas time – Christmas in a really hard year. The anticipation for this season has been building since Halloween. The stores had Christmas decorations up before the orange and black candy bags were even gone from the shelves.

We are desperate for something good to look forward to.

I think that’s why I love celebrating Advent so much. Advent is a celebration leading up to Christmas that followers of Jesus have observed for centuries. It is a looking back on the Advent (or coming) of Christ at Christmas and a looking forward at the future hope of Christ who promised to come again. It is the anticipation of the future Advent that fills my heart with a “thrill of hope.”

The primary theme of Advent is waiting.

I hate waiting. Don’t we all hate waiting?

In fact, we hate waiting so much that when we are particularly excited about something, we exclaim, “I CAN’T WAIT!”

Waiting and wanting are all mixed up in our minds. We can’t wait because we do not yet have the thing we want – and we want so badly the thing we are waiting for so impatiently . . . Confusing? So much so that we don’t always even know what we want anymore . . .

Lucky for us, the US Media Industry spends $363 Billion a year to tell us what we want . . .

Our inability to wait has been sold to the highest bidder. Our unwillingness to slow down and determine what we really want is a market in an of itself.

I was reading John, chapter 18 today. This is the part of the Jesus story in which Jesus is betrayed by friends, arrested, questioned, and ultimately brought before Pilate – the Roman governor of the region.

Basically, Pilate realizes that Jesus is innocent. Obviously, the charges against him are being invented to try to force Rome’s hand to execute Jesus, but Pilate doesn’t want to mess with the Religious status quo. Yet, Pilate is intrigued by Jesus – puzzled by him. In a final attempt to free Jesus from the fate he could not avoid based on the power struggle he lived within, Pilate turns to the gathered crowd.

It was customary that at Passover (the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar) one Jewish prisoner would be released back to the people by the Roman government in a show of good faith. Knowing this was his chance, Pilate went to the people and asked if they would like to have Jesus released.

Now, let’s remember: Jesus was not a nobody. He had healed sickness, raised the dead, taught love, and challenged broken systems. Just days before, these same people gave him the reception of a king returning from battle – maybe even on this same street . . .

And when Pilate asked if the people wanted Jesus released, they said something surprising.

. . .“No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!”
John 18:40

“We want Barabbas!”

Barabbas, John tells us, was a revolutionary. When given a choice between Jesus and his promised kingdom and Barabbas, the people chose Barabbas.

Scripture doesn’t tell us why, but I wonder . . .

Maybe the people wanted Barabbas because he was a zealot and he’d fight against Rome. He would insight rebellion, take action, make moves. Maybe Barabbas wouldn’t wait. Maybe he was a well-liked guy. Maybe he was powerful and people needed his influence.

The point is not necessarily why they wanted Barabbas, but that they chose him over Jesus.

When Pilate asked the people if they wanted Jesus released he asked them “Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”

“Would you like me to release [your] ‘king’”, Pilate asked.  
“No, we want Barabbas,” the people said.

“We want Barabbas!”

What about you? What is it that you want?

You might not have an answer to that question right now, but I think it’s one worth asking.

What do you want? What is it you are waiting for? If given the choice, who – what – would you have released into the world this Christmas?

The whole world is vying – and buying – to tell you what you should want, but you do have a choice.

In your wanting and waiting, take some time to answer this question: What do you want released into the world through you?

In the famous song, Joy to the World, one line is repeating in my mind today: “Let earth receive her king.”

I’ve always thought that line is about Jesus – and I think it is.

But . . . I also wonder if we get to decide which king we want.

Which king do you want to receive this Christmas? Which king do you want the world to receive?

What is it that you truly want? And is it worth waiting for?

As for me . . . I will pray what followers of Jesus have prayed for generations – both at Christmas and throughout the year . . .

Come, Lord Jesus.

Let earth receive her King.

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