Christmas comes with strings attached – in the form of great expectations.
You know what I mean. Women all around the world go to bed on Christmas Eve with visions of a perfectly basted, perfectly moist turkey, freshly scrubbed kitchen, spit-and-polished kids, and well-behaved pets dancing in their heads. The pressure is on. The in-laws will be inspecting the ship on the morrow. The children will be expecting perfectly packaged blissfully joy-inducing toys to while away the boredom of the holidays.
Christmas morning dawns to two cases of the stomach flu, your mother-in-law accidentally releases the pent-up rage of the over-stuffed hall closet, the turkey is three hours past moist, and the mashed potatoes bear an uncanny resemblance to glue.
And it all goes downhill from there.
The holidays are stuffed full of great expectations. Commercials recreate tear-jerking family moments around a glistening Martha Stewart-laid table. Music fills the airways with the promise of peace and joy. Movies and stories feature a round-cheeked Santa who will make every child’s dreams come true.
There are times when reality doesn’t quite live up to those expectations, does it?
But – imagine for a moment Mary’s great expectations for her very first Christmas.
An angel tells her she will be pregnant out of wedlock. Her husband to be assumes she has cheated on him and wants to quietly divorce her. She faces the whispers and stares of her family and friends as her belly grows with this promised child. When Joseph takes her back, an Imperial command forces travel late in her pregnancy – and she does’t have access to reclining leather seats, either. Bethlehem is horrifically crowded, and she has to not only sleep in a filthy barn, but give birth there, too. No midwife. No clean towels. No epidural or sterilized equipment.
Doesn’t it seem like – a mistake?
I mean, this was baby Jesus. God’s Son. Couldn’t God have planned a little better? Made things a little – easier?
The truth is, God knew perfectly well what He was doing. The charming manger scene we all celebrate in song each year has been made charming by time because we know the ending. We know that the manger made the cross possible, and we celebrate this season because a baby born in a barn grew up to be our Saviour.
God knows what He is doing, even when your expectations are dashed. Especially when your expectations are dashed. In fact, when things look the darkest, you can be sure that He is up to something magical and magnificent.
The bumbling and awkward circumstances surrounding our Saviour’s birth prove to us that in the midst of our bumbling and awkward and downright painful experiences, God is present. Powerful. Working all things for our good. We just might not be able to see that yet, because we don’t have the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight.
Burned the turkey? Forgot to buy a gift for Uncle Gord? Dealing with burdens weighing you down and crushing your Christmas expectations?
Ah, friend. Not to worry. God still and ever knows what He is doing. He is working to prepare in you more room for the Christmas baby in the manger of your heart. And He is waiting. Watching.
With great expectations.