t’s almost Christmas. During this season, it’s familiar to feel like we’re being pulled in a number of directions. It could be the pressure to finish our Christmas shopping, find time to spend with close friends, or maybe there’s stress being with loved ones. In all our busyness, one thing is clear – expectations abound.
From Black Friday to Christmas morning, these expectations are both direct and unspoken. We may establish clear expectations of what we would like to receive as gifts – think of letters to Santa. We try to arrange our calendars to meet up with friends (and hope their calendars align with ours) and decline invitations that conflict with more important events (like dance recitals or work luncheons) – all under the guise of trying to balance our expectations with those of others. What could be a deeply relational and nourishing time is more often quite transactional and stressful – the opposite of our hopeful desires. There are also frequent reminders that we mustn’t forget about Jesus either – or if we do, it may add to our guilt and felt need to be more ‘spiritual’. Our social plate can overflow with the goodness of an exquisite buffet, and that can easily add more layers of expectations to our dilemma.Time after time, the actions and words of Jesus ran counter to the expectations of those who thought they understood what Messiah was going to do. Click To Tweet
Besides the variety of events during a single season, the ghosts of Christmases past also create a framework of expectation – of selected memories from holiday events, of memorable gifts, of cherished relationships. So it’s not just the current season that we’re measuring our satisfaction against. We are a competitive species, so it is to be expected that even if we’re not competing with others about the value of gifts or whether or not we get a new car Christmas morning with a red bow on top, we could still be competing with ourselves to make this Christmas the best ever. Finding the ‘right gift’ that represents our heart may instead reinforce our bias towards transactional instead of relational gifts. If we’re not careful, we could begin to idolize our expectations and lose sight of their dissonance. Is the reason for the season to live up to our expectations?
Looking through a religious lens, the Christmas Season significantly overlaps with the Advent Season. A reinforced theme through Advent is the waiting and expectation associated with Jesus’ arrival on earth. Many Christian religions focus on hope and peace and joy as they celebrate and rehearse the elements of the Christ’s birth (and first coming), while others also include the anticipation of His second coming to bring the fullness of what His first coming didn’t accomplish. And yet the unifying theme is based in expectation. And waiting.
Though Advent can have hints of a ‘Waiting for Godot’ sensation, it can also be a season to reflect on the ways that Jesus did not satisfy the expectations of his disciples. He didn’t satisfy or align with the expectations of those who thought they knew the Hebrew Scriptures and had confidence in their ability to recognize the Messiah when he would come. It’s a provocative and illuminating study to read through Jesus’ parables and his interactions with his disciples, various religious leaders, and other individuals and note the common thread of how their expectations of Jesus or what he was trying to teach was disrupted.
Here are a few examples:
- Telling Peter – get behind me, Satan. (Matthew 16:23)
- Advising the Rich Young Ruler – go and sell all that you have and give to the poor. (Luke 18:22)
- Let the dead bury the dead. (Matthew 8:22)
- Throwing a wedding guest out into the darkness because of their wrong attire (Matthew 22:13)
There are many others, too. Ultimately, Jesus died on a cross when the dominant historical narrative pointed to the truth that the Messiah was going to free Israel from occupation (in this case, Roman). Time after time, the actions and words of Jesus ran counter to the expectations of those who thought they understood what Messiah was going to do. So it is with appropriate reflection that I suggest we consider what expectations we have of this Christmas Season, how aligned they are with the actual (instead of hopeful or misinterpreted) teachings of Jesus, and how we can be animated by the eternal truths we desire to embody.