Christmas is about expectations. “Come thou long expected Jesus” was the prayer of God’s chosen people as they waited for the Messiah. In celebrating Advent, we enter into those expectations and rejoice in their fulfillment.
Sadly, we often load Christmas down with all kinds of other expectations. When people or presents don’t meet those expectations, we feel disappointed. Unrealistic expectations lead to unhappy emotions.
What should our expectations be this Christmas?
First, we should expect nothing. If we go into the holidays with zero expectations of how our husband will shop for us or how our children will behave or how our sister will treat us, our emotions will be unruffled by other people.
In other words, the best way to prepare our emotions for Christmas is to repent from idolatry. Remember, as John Calvin warned us, the evil of our desires is not so much in what we desire, but that we desire it too much. We often call these desires “expectations.” And where you have “disappointed expectations,” more often than not, you’ll find an idol lurking nearby.
When we do away with selfish expectations–or as the Bible likes to call them, “worthless idols”–we can expect joyful emotions this Christmas.
Secondly, we should expect trouble. For the Christian, trouble around the holidays should not be unexpected. Our Lord has promised that, “in this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33); and, to paraphrase my dad, “Sin doesn’t take a holiday.”
Expect that your children may be ungrateful or unruly or that your uncle may criticize your Christian convictions. Expect trouble this Christmas and you will be better prepared to handle it emotionally.
Our secular culture tries to ignore the reality of trouble around the holidays, covering their eyes with sentimentality:
“Have yourself a Merry little Christmas,
May your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight…
From now on our troubles will be miles away…”
For the Christian, our troubles will be miles away and out of sight—one day. But that is the promise of heaven, not Christmas. Unless the Lord returns or calls us home, trouble is an ever-present reality, sometimes especially so at Christmastime.
Christmas is about celebrating the fulfilled expectation of Christ come to earth, even as we wait in expectation of his glorious return. As we celebrate the “already” we must also expect the “not yet.”
But our expectations shouldn’t end in despair. Because of Christmas, we can also expect grace. Christ has come! God is with us! Hebrews 2 highlights our spectacular Christmas expectations, made possible because of Jesus Christ:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
He is able to help! He is able to help us respond graciously and courageously to our antagonistic uncle. He is able to help us train our children. He is able to help us put off worthless idols and find our joy in Him. In our Christmas troubles and temptations, we can expect the help of the incarnate God. God is with us and God is with us to help. He has made propitiation for every sin. He is able to help us to resist every emotional temptation. His presence is our comfort in every trouble.
When we set our Christmas expectations on Christ, we will be full of joy unspeakable.