Dec 22, 2015

In Good Faith: Great Expectations

In the Christmas edition of my In Good Faith column, I write about the fulfillment of expectations and why Mary hoped her son would become a mediocre left-handed relief pitcher.

Great Expectations

Anyone who has ever sat on Santa’s lap knows that expectations don’t always mesh with
reality. As a case in point, I’m still waiting for that go-cart I asked for in 1976. My expectations did not mesh with Santa’s reality.

When it comes to Christmas, we so often set high expectations for ourselves and those around us. We want the perfect tree, the perfect dinner, the perfect family, the perfect gift. And so often our expectations don’t mesh with the reality. 

In other words, you didn’t notice that giant bald spot on the tree when you picked it out at the tree farm, the Christmas goose was overcooked, you can put your entire family in matching pajamas but it still doesn’t mask the dysfunction, and not only is that tie ugly — you don’t even wear them! The hard truth of reality often comes crashing down upon our unrealistic seasonal expectations.

But maybe we’re just placing our expectations in the wrong…Christmas tree stand. Perhaps we need to rethink and reframe our expectations. Expectation is certainly a major theme on Christmas — Mary was expecting a baby, after all. And after hearing that this child would be destined for great things, she certainly must have had expectations about how that would play out; about what this child would grow up to be and accomplish. A lawyer! A doctor! A mediocre left-handed relief pitcher who will make millions! 

Expectant parents, especially first time ones, are enamored with possibility. And as Mary wondered about how this would all unfold and pondered the possibilities in her heart, I doubt she anticipated her child would one day be strung up on a cross like a common criminal. Surely that didn’t mesh with her vision of him accomplishing great things.

And so, while Christmas is about the fulfillment of expectations, the catch is that Christmas is not about our expectations being realized, but rather God’s.

When Christians sing “Christ the Savior is born,” we’re singing of a Savior who expresses God’s love for us in surprising ways. One who came into the world to show us that the love of God transcends all our expectations as it moves from manger to cross to resurrection.

The reality is that the world in which we live can be a hard place. In recent days we’ve been confronted with the effects of terrorism and racism and unspeakable violence both at home and abroad. And it’s tempting to hunker down in our homes with the nice white candles in the windows, drink some egg nog, and allow those visions of sugar plums to dance in our heads.

But if we’re honest, we’re left to wonder “Where is God in all of this?” When so many are hurting in our world, a “silent night” doesn’t seem to do justice to the pain. 

Yet it is precisely into this world that Jesus comes; into the mud and muck of the stable, not a sterile movie set gleaming with fake snow. Jesus entered into the reality of a sinful and broken world — that’s what he came to redeem and save.

So whatever our expectations were, what we receive through the gift of God entering the world in human form, is so much greater. We receive the divine presence in our lives both in times of joy and in times of sorrow; in times of elation and in times of grief. Through it all, God is with us. And that’s the true miracle of Christmas; the realization and fulfillment of all our expectations.

Wherever you worship, whatever you believe, whoever you may be, may your expectations mesh with the reality of God’s love for you. And may you have a very Merry Christmas.

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