Anticipation… expectation…watching the days… watching the hours… hopefully waiting… waiting for God to move… waiting for the special day… that special day when God comes and lives among us… when God graces us with God’s presence… we wait with hopeful expectation for what tomorrow might bring… we wait with hopeful expectation for what God might do… we wait with hopeful expectation… for what?
What is it that you are waiting for this Christmas? What is it that you are hoping to receive on this special day… this day that we celebrate Christ’s birth? Are you hoping to find something under a tree? Are you hoping for something to begin… or maybe you’re hoping for something to end… What are you hoping for this Christmas? Is it a present? Or a job? Or healing? Or reconciliation? A new relationship? Or a new beginning? What are you hoping for this Christmas?
We all bring our own hopes… and even our fears to this day… to this place. I wonder what hopes and fears Mary and Joseph brought to the place where Jesus was born. What might they have been feeling on this day? We don’t know but my guess might be frustration and exhaustion followed by relief with finding a place to stay… and then maybe some more exhaustion… with the birth of the baby.
And then there are the shepherds… out in the fields, keeping watch over their sheep. They were looked down upon by the other people… the wealthier people… the respectable people. And yet God chose them to be the first recipients of the good news of Jesus’ birth. Can you imagine their surprise when the quiet of the night was interrupted with the presence of an angel? Surprise that turned into terror as they realized they were in the presence of a heavenly visitor… who immediately sought to reassure them and to take away their fear and to give them the good news of Jesus’ birth.
Do you think they had been expecting anything out of the ordinary on that special night so many years ago? Probably not… but that God chose them… is a good lesson to all of us that God might indeed choose to visit us… through an angel or through a friend, at any time… we can always expect to be surprised by God. But at Christmas time we tend to raise that expectation to astronomical heights.
And often our reality does not live up to our expectations… and so instead of joy… we feel disappointment or emptiness or longing for something else. Maybe this is partly why suicides increase at this time of year… a time when happiness is expected but not always delivered…
Last year a friend of mine started a comment thread on Facebook about Christmas songs that make her sad. Her comment reminded me of a comment of my own… made as Scott and I were driving and a melancholy Christmas song came on… it was a song about lost love and regrets in life… and I told Scott that someone could probably make a special radio station just for the depressing Christmas music.
There seem to be a lot of sad songs for this time of year …
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my heart”
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart, the very next day you gave it away…”
“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you…”
“Do they know it’s Christmas…”
It’s interesting that these songs are all secular songs What is it about Christmas that brings out songs of disappointment and sadness? Have you ever felt a bit blue at this time of year? Or maybe as we approach the end of the year we take stock of our lives and are disappointed with what we’ve failed to accomplish…. John Lennon addressed those thoughts with… “another year over and what have you done?” Or maybe this past year was one of difficulty and we have a desire to move on to something new… and yet we have fear about what the future might hold.
We might feel a bit sad at Christmas because we remember the carefree days of our youth and wish that we could celebrate Christmas in the same way this year. Or the nostalgia of special memories bring our emotions to the surface as we remember those loved ones who have gone on ahead of us…
We bring all kinds of emotions to the celebration of Christmas…anticipation and excitement and tiredness and regret and hope for something new…As we celebrate we are invited to look… not under the tree… to look… not for whatever gift we might be expecting… to look… not in things… but to look where the shepherds looked… in the manger.
As we look in the manger… along with Mary and Joseph and the others gathered… we see a little baby… but not just any baby… we see Emmanuel, God with us… we see the man who came and lived so that we too might live… we see the baby who became the man who gave his life for all people… and we see the man who taught us to not only love those who are loveable but to even love our enemies and to love those who persecute us. When we look into the manger we see God… we see hope…
We see hope. And you know what? The vast majority of Christmas songs, the good songs, are not depressing… rather they are songs filled with hope. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The good songs are about the hope and the joy that we find in our God… they are songs about the love and care that God has for us. The good songs don’t sugarcoat the reality of our lives or the problems in our world… Remember the words in O Holy Night? “The weary world rejoices…” We all experience weariness and disappointment at times… but we and the world experience the struggles knowing that Emmanuel, God is with us.
And God with us is the best gift that any of us could ever receive… not only on this Christmas, but every day there after… We come to Christmas with expectations and hopes and the child who came for each of us invites us to place those hopes and those expectations in him. This child who became the man Jesus loves us more than we can ever know… He is the true gift this and every Christmas. Amen.