Not-Expected Christmas

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Expectations.

We carry them with us all the time, don’t we?

Into marriage. Into careers. Into parenthood. Into church.

And now we are in the season where we’re told to expect the “most wonderful time of the year.”

I wonder if that’s what Mary felt as she made the trip to Bethlehem at nine months pregnant, maybe swollen ankles and a leaky bladder. If that’s what she felt as the pain of her labor mixed with the smell of hay and manure. If that’s what she felt when the only place to lay her baby was in a manger. “Yes, this must be the most wonderful time of the year!”

We set our expectations high for Christmas, don’t we?

The decorations, food, gifts, family, romance, and pictures. The pretense of relaxation.

Sometimes the holidays actually make us feel merry and bright. But sometimes we’ll do almost anything to dress up, cover up, light up what actually feels ugly, broken, or dark in our lives. The parts that aren't living up to our expectations.

We’re conditioned to think that just because it’s Christmas, this must be the “Happ-happiest season of all.” And that something is wrong with us if it isn’t.

But what about when the lights and blow-up Santa Clause on our lawn can’t hide the dysfunction and pain that lives inside our home?

What about when the sweet aromas of our dishes can’t wash away the sting of grief as we miss those people who used to sit with us around the table?

What about when even the best gifts can't cover up the fact that the romance we hoped for isn’t quite Hallmark Channel?

What about when the constant parties and people make us feel more drained than rested?

What about when the only picture that seems to capture real life isn’t the one we are perfectly posed in front of the tree, but the one Grandma tries to take of her little grandkids crying and running away?

If Christmas is about each of these things, what might seem like happy expectations can leave us a lot to be disappointed about.

I think of the Christmas I was expecting this year.

I think of the family pictures I thought we’d be taking of the four of us. I think of our baby who is in Heaven, instead of our arms. The little girl I thought would be five months old this Christmas, not seven months deceased. The little sister to Toddler. The one I thought would shake things up as we adjusted to crazy life with a toddler and a baby.

And it’s disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not what I expected.

And if Christmas were actually about life appearing and feeling and looking perfectly “merry and bright,” it would also be hopeless.

Because amid our laughter, family time, yummy food, and moments caught under the mistletoe, there’s some ugliness, brokenness, and darkness too. There are some tears and sadness.

But that’s why Christmas isn’t about those things.

That’s why we need to remember that the only things present at Christ’s birth weren’t fancy decorations, or rich food, or mountains of gifts at all. Just Mary, Joseph, a manger filled with hay. Some shepherds and a host of angels proclaiming Good News of Great Joy that our Savior had been born.

That’s why, if we stripped Christmas of our traditional, learned expectations, we might find a little light, a lot of hope, no matter our circumstances.

It’s not about lowering our expectations. It’s about erasing them completely. About replacing them with the highest expectation of all: A baby boy, Jesus. God becoming flesh and making His dwelling among us. The beginning of salvation from our ugliness, brokenness, and darkness. From tears and sadness.

Through our grief I have found myself hungrier for Advent than ever. Wishing, waiting, anticipating.

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. {Psalm 130:6}

There’s so much good news for all, in all of our circumstances, simply because “unto us a Child is born.” Because He came to save us.

For the fatherless. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God… {John 1:12}

For the lost. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. {Isaiah 9:2}

For the broken. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. {Isaiah 53:5b}

For the grieving. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. {Revelation 21:4}

For all of us finding that life here on Earth can’t live up to the expectations of “Merry” and “Happy.”

Mary might not have been comfortable on her journey to Bethlehem. She might not have felt like it was the “most wonderful time of the year.” Months of scrutiny for being pregnant sans husband, combined with months of how pregnancy makes you feel anything but comfortable.

But like Mary, I want to see that this time of year is about something more than my circumstances. Much more than how I try to dress up, cover up, and light up what feels ugly, broken, and dark in my life. 

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. {"Mary's Song," Luke 1:46-50}

I want to see that though life might not always feel "merry and bright," the hope born with this baby boy is something I can cling to. 

I want to remember that even when I have a not-expected kind of Christmas, that I can hold onto a long-expected Jesus. 

 

Grace and Peace,
Kendra
 

P.S. What are you going through that feels ugly, broken, and dark during a season we are told to expect happiness? I am so sorry for your hurt. I am praying that with our traditional expectations of Christmas stripped away, we can find hope and comfort in this season.