I’ve come to accept that expectations are a part of the Christmas celebration whether I like it or not. It’s not the expectations which can trip me up, it’s whether I hold my expectations and acknowledge the expectations of those around me, and whether I hold all of these expectations loosely or tightly. If I’m holding them tightly, maybe I don’t hold my expectations so much as those expectations hold me. Brandon Sanderson: “Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.” Christmas was forged in an imperfect world, and is still celebrated best in that light.
The Grinch thought that if he could steal all the Christmas goodies and symbols, he’d dash the people of Whoville’s hopes and dreams for Christmas. Instead, they joined hands and sang despite the Grinch’s best effort to play on their expectations—their joy burst forth in song. I’m not always sure that’s true for us. When things don’t work out the way we want—the way we’ve planned—and we don’t meet the expectations that can be thrust upon us by others—Christmas is ruined. We end up doing the Grinch’s work for him. We become the Grinch.
We left off last week talking about the possibility that God might be doing a new thing in our lives in 2016. That’s an expectation which is focused on God’s promise and presence in our lives. There’s a power in that expectation that promises joy no matter what our circumstances. Something happens to my soul when I make Christmas about me, and I’m making it about me when I focus on my expectation for the season, and when I’m focused on my expectation that I can meet “your” expectation.
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus counseled, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “ (Matthew 6:33) As an adult, I find expectations drive me to run faster and faster in hopes of first catching them, then vanquishing them with whatever it takes—more effort, money, and even more “perfection.” Seeking God’s kingdom requires waiting, for when and how God reveals His presence in my life is the Spirit’s doing, not mine.
Cultivating a childlike spirit of waiting is a way of giving up my expectations and the illusion that Christmas is something I produce. Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote to Eberhard Bethge a letter from Tegal prison November 21, 1943: “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent: one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.” (from God is in the Manger)
Joseph had expectations for his life with Mary as his wife, then she turned up pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father. That difficulty triggered the expectation that he needed to move her out of his life. It was his right to make a public spectacle of her, but he decided to break off their engagement quietly. That’s when an angel showed up with a different plan:
Jesus’ mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they were married, she found out that she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately. While he was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. For it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived. She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus—because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all this happened in order to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet, “A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”). (Matthew 1:18-23)
Joseph had to surrender his expectations in order to embrace God’s presence and activity not only in his life, but in the birth of the Savior Isaiah had hoped for five hundred years earlier:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. They lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them. You have given them great joy, Lord; you have made them happy. They rejoice in what you have done, as people rejoice when they harvest grain or when they divide captured wealth. For you have broken the yoke that burdened them and the rod that beat their shoulders. You have defeated the nation that oppressed and exploited your people, just as you defeated the army of Midian long ago. The boots of the invading army and all their bloodstained clothing will be destroyed by fire. A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” “Prince of Peace.” His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace. He will rule as King David’s successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time. The LORD Almighty is determined to do all this. (Isaiah 9:2-7)
What’s the new thing God might be wanting to do in my life this Advent season…am I open to God’s possibilities or trapped by my expectations?
Here’s what I have on my desk…
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IMPORTANT DATES FOR THE CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS PAGEANT
TODAY SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4TH: CASTING CALL FOR CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS PAGEANT BETWEEN WORSHIP SERVICES IN THE CONDERENCE ROOM.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, DECEMBER 9TH: REHEARSAL FOR ALL CHILDREN—FROM 4:30 TO 6:00 PM
Due to sharing space in the sanctuary, our rehearsal day is on Friday. We look forward to your child participating in this cherished Christmas tradition.
Sunday, December 11th: THE Children’s Christmas pageant will be performed at both worship services!
We need helpers for our Christmas Pageant and rehearsal! Areas in need of help include getting children costumes, helping them into and out of costumes, snacks for both services, entertaining children in Fellowship Hall before the Pageant and cuing the children to go into the Sanctuary.