There is something magical about the Christmas season. From Thanksgiving on, people spend a significant amount of their free time and extra money preparing for one day. There are cookies to bake, cards to send, music to listen to, houses to decorate, and gifts to buy. After a month of build up, Christmas finally comes. After a month of building expectations, it is next to impossible to have them met. If you are like me, I have grown tired of not having them met, so I have mastered the art of managing expectations. Don’t get wrong, I love Christmas and I love the cookies, but I am very careful to let my heart get all in, because having your expectations crushed can be one of the most painful things in the world.
It is so easy to be jaded when our expectations are dashed, that most of us don’t even realize that it has happened. Every year that goes buy you find your self saying more and more often that it just doesn’t seem to feel like the holidays. However, ever now and then you bump into someone, usually a kid, who could not be more excited for Christmas, or their birthday, or Disneyland, or summer, or whatever. It is usually through the eyes of kids that we get a picture of a life that is really great and worth living.
What has happened over the course of the years to make our heats numb? I think the answer has something to do with self preservation, with protecting our hearts at all cost, and in the process our hearts get even more damaged. I know I am not alone in experiences pain and heartbreak. I am not the first person to have their hopes built up high only to have them crushed. Because it is so painful to have our expectations not met, we gradually lower them until we expect very little if anything from anyone anymore, including God.
But this is not the way we were designed to live. It is our expectations that allow us to live life to the fullest. This Christmas season I highly recommend that you watch Christmas vacation starring Chevy Chase. The entire movie is a about a man who never lets go of his expectations. Every event, every moment is a high light and needs to be shared. Even the arrival of his brother in law adds to the narrative of hosting the best family Christmas ever. There is something naive about his character and it is easy to mock him for these expectations, but at the same time we are drawn to him as a person and impressed with his love towards his family. Even his apathetic teen-aged kids know their dad loves them.
When we have expectations our hearts are quickened and we are on alert for things to happen, for things to be special. And the same is true in our walk with Jesus. Isn’t it amazing that kids always come back from camps and mission trips profoundly impacted by the Holy Spirit. Part of it is the trip, but the truth is our camps and trips are pretty average. But what isn’t average is that for the month or two leading up to these trips, we have special meetings, special fund raising, and special lessons all preparing for an amazing trip. And after several months of preparing for an amazing trip what happens, we have an amazing trip. Even the kids who threw up the entire week all talk about what an amazing trip it was.
It is one thing to be jaded by the Christmas season. But it is devastating when we become jaded in our faith. This last month I had the pleasure of being in a meeting with several youth pastors to plan our winter camp. For me, this is old hat. I was mostly enjoying an excuse to have coffee with friends. But a brand new youth worker at the table could not contain her excitement about winter camp. She shared stories from last year where kids gave their hearts to Jesus and how excited she was to be on the planning team for such an important event. On my drive home I came to a scary reality, I had become jaded. But thankfully, God used our time together to refresh my soul, and to build a new sense of expectation.
Expectations are not an accidental thing. God as an integral part of our faith development gives them to us. Expectations are what open our eyes and ears to the movement of God. The entire redemptive history found in scripture is filled with people expectant for God to provide children, free them, save them, bless them. And the culmination is the expectant coming of the messiah, and his return.
Advent is not really about preparing our houses for the Christmas season. Advent is about raising our expectations for the messiah to come. I think it is true that Jesus not only loves the world, but also loves you and me on an intimate level and desires to impact our lives. (At least this is what I teach our students) a jaded heart can never hear the still and small voice of God or see the subtle ways in which he seems to often move. An expectant heart is continually straining its eyes and ears for the movement of God, and even the slightest movement increases our faith and causes us to strain even more.
I am pretty tired of having such low expectations of Jesus. So, this advent I am going to add a rule of life to this season. It is pretty simple, but I am expectant for it to rock my world.
- In the morning ask God to show up, and expect that he will.
- And in the evening, reflect on the day and the places he did.
A poet in the 1850’s named Alfred Lord Tennyson penned the famous line, “it is better to have loved and lost, then to never have loved at all.” Tennyson got that life happens in the living of it, and this advent I want this to be true for me also. I so want God to show up and have at it with me, and I am going to expect that he will. For, I would rather expect that he would show up and wrestle with the awkwardness and disappointment of when it looks differently, then to be numb and jaded to working of the Holy Spirit and miss out on the coming of Jesus!
Advent: be expectant, because Jesus is coming!