Each year in December I pull out the Christmas decorations, put on the Christmas music, write my Christmas cards, rehearse my Christmas music, plan my Christmas menus.
Because I have expectations.
If I plan well, and if I work hard to find just the right Christmas gift for my family and friends, I expect to have a successful Christmas.
I remember my childhood days surrounding Christmas:
- the little decorations we made in school (yes, we were able to celebrate Christmas in the schools back then),
- the Christmas carols that taught me about Jesus and filled my mind with magic about this season,
- the wonderful family parties, filled with Norwegian treats, Norwegian traditions, Norwegian songs,
- attending the Candlelight Christmas Eve service at church where I sang Gesu Bambino, or the Rejoice aria from Handel’s Messiah, or The Star Carol more times than I can remember,
- the perfect pine-y smelling Christmas tree.
Now, I like Jingle Bells, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. They’re festive songs that make me feel happy.
But lately I’ve come to appreciate the words from this Christmas carol:
“Come, though long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear Desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” (Carol by Charles Wesley, Rowland Pritchard)
Where do I find my joy at this season?
At the repetition of cherished traditions? Or at the reminder that God left His place in heaven and—mystery of all mysteries—took on human flesh so that He might be fully human while fully God when He died on the cross for me, to take God’s wrath which should have been on me.
The Hebrew prophecies foretold His coming. The Israelites expected Him.
They earnestly desired Him to come.
But, just like me, their expectations were misplaced. For them, the expectation was for a mighty King to conquer the Romans and set up David’s rule again. For me, the expectation is not even that lofty. I want a baby I can place in the manger of my nativity set while I listen to cozy music and drink eggnog.
Oh God, help me to focus on the reality of Emmanuel, God with us.
That night, God emerged from Mary’s bloody thighs and drew His first human breath. Not a comfortable image, but one that spears my heart. For every mother desires and expects that her precious child will grow up and outlive his parents.
But Mary would live to see her first-born Son do something she most likely did not expect.
“(Jesus), Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2: 6-8 NIV Bible)