I have an opinion. And it isn’t very popular, so I need to make sure nobody’s holding any stones before I share it.
Alright, here goes.
I do not like Hallmark movies, Christmas or not. I can’t appreciate them for what they are. I just don’t get it. I end up shouting questions at the screen, wanting answers to plot holes and for someone to tell me who in the world wrote this dialogue.
Maybe there’s something in the predictability, the complete lack of realism. Something about a clean resolution. The guy gets the girl. The girl gets the crown or the promotion or the makeover. The town saves the Christmas pageant. The local diner is spared by the corporate tyrant. The bitter cynic is hopeful again. The problem is solved, and the credits roll.
But here’s what’s lovely about these cheesy flicks: at the end when the screen goes dark, all my expectations have been met. Certainly, I have some questions that have yet to be answered. And certainly, I have a tiny tinge of regret at the time I just lost. But I got what I bargained for. A nice, neat bow on a relatively uncomplicated problem.
But what happens when those expectations roll over into the flesh and blood reality we live in? What happens when we sit on the edge of our seats this season, eagerly looking for our picture-perfect ending and storybook Christmas?
I wonder if Mary knew anything about unrealistic expectations. Honestly, as many times as we ask her every year, I don’t think Mary knew all the details. From the beginning, we see her fear and we hear her ask, “How will this be?” During the nine months of her pregnancy, surely she had expectations for how the birth story would unfold, and I may be wrong, but I don’t imagine she expected stable animals to be witnesses or grimy shepherds to be her first guests.
And what about those guys? The shepherds. What did they expect? Did they run to the site to which the angels sent them expecting to see a young teenager holding the Messiah they had been waiting for? A simple carpenter standing behind her? The damp smell of the cave in which they lay? Wasn’t Messiah supposed to be royal? What was He doing here? Why did the angels tell them? Shouldn’t there have been a bigger announcement to more prominent men than they? They were Jewish men who knew the prophecies. They knew the words that declared what was to come, but did they yet understand how or when or why? Maybe their expectations had had a little more color. More light. More neat lines and a fine timeline of when exactly their suffering would end. They were only human, after all.
And we can relate, can’t we? Our expectations are often outlined by our circumstances.
So often, we walk into the Christmas season with really high expectations of ourselves, of the people around us, of the celebrations and parties and gifts and food and decorations. We expect things to end neatly like our sweet, pre-packaged Hallmark movies. We expect snow to fall and love stories to have magical beginnings and happy endings. We expect our Christmas cookies to look just like that glossy photo in the magazine, and we sigh with great disappointment when they don’t.
We expect the bank accounts to swell to accommodate the gifts we desire to give. We expect the tension we’ve walked in every other month of the year to loosen its grip and let us live in peace for a few weeks. We expect the grief we’ve suffered to pause for just a minute and let us breathe.
We walk into this season expecting a whole lot. Expecting our lives to really look like the Christmas cards we send.
And maybe they do at times. Don’t get me wrong. There are beautiful moments to be had this season. Watching children and grandchildren light up the room with their belief in Christmas magic. Invitations to Christmas parties with friends and loved ones. New love, and new babies, and first Christmases spent together. And singing — oh, the singing! It is indeed a beautiful, heart-warming, fuzzy, cheesy, gloriously happy time of year in certain moments.
But in the moments when it’s not, how do we survive? And what do we do when the lights go out, the decorations are packed, and we’re left again with the bare and empty walls we started with? How do we move past our expectations when another year passes and they just aren’t entirely met?
May I submit a possibility that we are expecting the wrong things. Maybe we need to expect something else.
You see, the truth is, Jesus Himself told us we would have trouble here. And there wasn’t a caveat in that verse that told us we’d get a break at Christmas. We don’t. Life at this time of year is covered in a little more glitter, a little more light, a little more cheer, and charity, but it is still life. There are still parts that hurt. There are parts that cannot be wrapped up in a neat, Hallmark Christmas bow. There are questions still unanswered. Problems still unsolved. Wounds still opened and not quite healed.
But what if we changed our expectations? What if, instead of expecting a perfect Christmas, we expected a perfect Savior? What if we took time to open our hearts and “prepare Him room”? To expect Him to show up in our lives? To expect Him to be enough for us? Because He is enough for us. Our world may not be commercially classified as merry and bright this season, but we can be sure that the Prince of Peace Himself has arrived and brought us freedom from our strife. That is cause enough for celebration. An expectation sure to be fulfilled and in Jesus, already met.
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
One thing we have that the shepherds didn’t that night is a view of the cross from the manger. When you look into the face of the infant Divine this Christmas, you will find a Savior. You will find a King that has conquered death. You will find a Messiah, a Deliverer, who has far exceeded “all we could ever ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
Rather than hanging all our hopes on how this Christmas will meet our needs and expectations, may we instead look at Jesus, who is the final Word on all we could ever hope for. He is the healing of our heartbreak. The new song of redemption we sing. The reason we celebrate. The restoration of our broken narrative. The joy declared to all the world.
May we turn our faces to the manger and expect with certainty to see our Savior, Jesus.
“One thing I want my soul to remember and I want your soul to know is that life isn’t always good; humans aren’t always good; but God is good. Always.”