Today marks the one-year anniversary of our intended migration from Oregon. We also hit the one-year mark of being “on the road” as we still haven’t actually landed anywhere yet. While I had expected to be settled into our own house long before now, things haven’t exactly turned out that way. 2012 threw many unexpected twists at us, so early on this Monday morning I’ve come to a restaurant-bar on the grounds of the hotel where we’re staying to try and process this unbelievable year.
Did 2012 throw some unexpecteds at you too?
I wonder how you handled them…
Did you embrace them and the new adventures they brought? Perhaps you ran from them, or hid under the blankets hoping they’d just go away. I prefer hiding. Useless, I know, but I do it anyway. Denial is always an alternative, but eventually reality will catch up with you and you’ll have to face the unexpecteds at some later time.
Expectations. We all have them, but what are they exactly? Are they good or bad? Healthy? Unhealthy? Realistic or unrealistic?
Yes, they can be all of those.
The Christmas season is loaded with expectations. Some of those will be fulfilled under the tree on Christmas morning and others will not. Expectations can wield enormous influence during our Christmas experience whether we know it or not. Their unspoken and invisible presence can function as the dominating director of our emotions, decisions, and relationships all without our even knowing they exist.
Because of our nomadic condition, the Christmas season launched without me this year. I know Christmas won’t have all of the typical components that I “expect” and enjoy every year – most of them are in storage. It’s only the 3rd of December, but by now I’ve usually decorated the house, pulled out my Christmas CDs, set up my nativity crèche complete with straw and stars, and for sure I’ve already watched White Christmas, Frosty, Charlie Brown, and Elf. Not this year.
My challenge this year is how do I enjoy a meaningful Christmas when I know going into it that it will never fulfill my expectations?
I couldn’t sleep last night listening to Philip, Steven, and Bob snore in our hotel room, so I spent three hours mulling that question over. How do I enjoy Christmas when my expectations are getting in the way? Actually, I tried to mull, but Jose Feliciano kept haranguing at me in the darkness. “Feliz Navidad prospero año y felicidad,” he sang over and over and over. Now, I love Christmas music as much as anyone, but contending with Jose at 3 in the morning when I’d rather be sleeping was more than I could bear. I tried everything I could think of to get him to stop, but he just wouldn’t. Finally, at 4am I yelled at him in Spanish. “Es todo, Jose! Nada mas!” He didn’t listen. He was too busy winding up for yet another encore.
Well, they say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” so I tried another approach. In my feeble attempt to interdict Jose’s endless rant and replace it with something less irritating, I began to softly sing one of my favorite Christmas hymns.
Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee.”
Mary expected Jesus. For nine months she waited in expectation for the infant son the angel, Gabriel, had promised her. (Luke 1:26-33)
The nation of Israel expected Jesus. They waited 700 years for the Messiah God had promised through His prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Humanity expected Jesus. From the very beginning when God promised to crush Satan’s influence in Genesis 3:15, to God’s provision of His Son as the antidote for our sin, humanity expected Jesus. (1 John 2:2)
Humanity still expects Jesus. God’s story is not finished yet. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”
To look for, long for, wait for…
The expectations found in scripture are grounded in the promises of God. Mary’s physical expectation was directly related to the promise God made to her that she would bear a child. There is a promise…there is a fulfillment…there is faithfulness…there is history. We can rightly “expect” from God because he has been faithful to his word.
So when do our expectations run amok? When they are built on our own desires and not anchored to the promises God has already given us. 2 Peter 1:4 assures us that God has given us his great and precious promises.
What are some of those promises that we can anchor our hearts to instead of to unhealthy expectations?
God promises hope in Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord. “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.”
God promises to give you strength in Isaiah 40:30-31
“Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become faint.”
God promises to supply your needs Philippians 4:19
“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
God promises His peace in John 14:27
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
God promises salvation in Romans 10:9
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
God promises eternal life in Romans 6:23
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
* * * * *
“Come Thou long expected Jesus,” I sing to the snoring chorus around me.
“Do you long for Jesus?” God’s voice whispers to me in the night.
I almost laugh out loud. I’m crammed into this tiny hotel room with three grown men snoring and wheezing, I don’t have a home, I don’t know where we’re going from one minute to the next, and God wants to know if I long for Him?
You bet I long for Him!
“Get me outta here! And p.s. can you get me into my own home by Christmas, Lord?” I whine.
“Do you long for Me?” He gently asks again.
“Oh, for you?”
About this time, Bing Crosby tries to invade my simple hymn with a round of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The sentiment alone threatens to drag my spirit under the weight of my unspoken expectations and distort God’s intention for this Christmas season.
“Oh yeah, Christmas is supposed to be about you, Lord. When did I forget that?”
Our expectations of what we think Christmas should involve, what our lives should look like, how our relationships are conducted, or even how God “should” interact with us can rob of us of the joy God intended us to experience. The very same joy he promised us in John 15:11:
“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
He wants us to be full of his joy – and that joy comes with an amazing list of other gifts as well: hope, strength, God’s provision, peace, salvation, eternal life, and the best gift of all – Jesus Himself.
So, I start this advent season of 2012 sitting by an artificial Christmas tree in an empty hotel bar. I have no home, no address, and no physical attachment to this earth. We do have a post office box so we can at least receive mail, but other than that, we are rootless. It’s certainly not where I expected to be this year, but I’m equally sure Mary didn’t expect to be in a barn delivering her Messiah son either…
Mary expected Jesus…
…and gave the rest of us the greatest gift any of us will ever receive.
This year as you celebrate Christmas, may you know the joy that comes from only expecting Jesus.
Feliz Navidad, everyone! Oh, sorry…Merry Christmas!
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.