Christmastime has muscles. They’ve come from hefting the weight of expectation that we thrust upon the merry season every year. Its burly arms are full of hopes for family unity, laughter, jolly moments around the fire, perfect presents, and figgy pudding, whatever that is.
Our hopes are healthy. Without them, hopelessness would extinguish all the twinkling lights and pull us into its darkness. The opportunity to plan sweet times for our loved ones is an annual blessing, and many of our hopes do come true. Praise God for his undeserved grace.
But do you find that sometimes Christmastime can’t quite hold up to all your expectations? Even in best-case scenarios when everything goes according to plan, do you feel a sliver of disappointment? Are you surprised to find a small pocket of emptiness in your full heart at the end of the day or the month of celebration?
Is this a problem of ingratitude? Perhaps. But that drop of sadness could also be a very good thing if it reminds us that our short-term expectations of Christmas are not all there is. Toys and cookies and Hallmark movies are not built to last. They are pretty sparks that shine for a moment, then disappear. There are far deeper, more wondrous expectations that stretch like the sunrise from the skies of Creation to Revelation, and they glimmer with the majesty of Christ. These long-term hopes are the ones that fueled the patriarchs, filled the prophets’ dreams, and envisioned the disciples in ministry and martyrdom. They are the ones that hold the joy we can’t find under the tree.
Like the angels in the Christmas Eve sky, these expectations sing of a Messiah who came to bless the cursed, to free the captive, to brighten the darkness, to cheer the hopeless, to raise the dead, and to literally save the world. They root our lives in the promises of God. We rejoice in all that Jesus has already done for us and long for the day when he will return and sin and evil will be gone for good. Sadness will be a distant memory and all will be made right. These hopes are called faith, and they please the Lord.
Our family is unapologetically pro-Christmas. We spend money on a live tree, decorate right after Thanksgiving, ingest way too many Christmas carbs, and blast the holiday tunes. We embrace the festive season that ushers in a new year. Truthfully though, even in all that happy hubbub, when our celebrations are all there is, it still falls a little bit flat. In contrast, when our special traditions cheer us in the moment but also lift our gaze to the eternal wonders of a holy God who shocked heaven and earth by sending his son to be born and die for us, then we start tasting real Christmas wonder. Joy incarnate walked our planet and now reigns victorious on the throne of God. This is soul-filling truth.
Don’t fret too much about whether everything will be picture-perfect this Christmas season. It probably won’t. Like the rest of life, it will most likely be a mix of blessings and joys with some irritations and disappointments mixed into the batter. No worries. Celebrate the best you can and know that while you’re preparing to honor his birth, Jesus is preparing a place for you in heaven. He’s in charge of making everything perfect in the end. As hard as it is to believe, he tells us to expect nothing less.
Enjoy your Christmas preparations and traditions, but cast your deepest expectations into the strong arms of the Messiah who can carry them with ease. Then relax in his love. All is calm. All is bright.