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When I was a young kid, my expectations ran high this time of the year – especially on Christmas Eve. I was so excited to find out what presents waited for me under the Christmas tree. I can remember laying down in front of the Christmas tree next to my brother as we looked at the tree together. We would both wonder out loud what was under the wrapping paper. Perhaps, we were making sure we didn’t peak. Part of me really wanted to know, and part of me wanted to wait as long as possible to unwrap my gifts, because I didn’t want the feeling of hope and expectation to end.
When I was a teenager, I went to all four Christmas Eve services with my Dad. I wanted to be at the Christmas Eve services to soak in the euphoria of the Christmas songs and the Christmas candle light. I appreciated the opportunity to ride back from the eleven o’clock service together. The ten minute drive from the church to our house was just enough time to reflect and quietly soak in the Christmas lights as we headed home together. I liked going to the late service as it meant I was pretty tired when we arrived home. I would fall asleep quickly after I slipped into bed.
The next morning, my expectation level rose to a crescendo as my brothers and I impatiently hurried my parents out of bed so we could open presents. Sometimes we would eat our rice pudding first before opening gifts, but I seem to remember the rice pudding coming later more often than not. We took turns opening our presents one at a time. First, my youngest brother, Erik, opened a present. Then, my brother, David, opened a present. My turn was next followed by my parents. We would take turns in this rotation until all the presents were unwrapped. We took our time going through this routine. It wasn’t rushed. It was relished. We expressed our appreciation for each gift. We took pictures. And we dreamed out loud about how we would use this new gift. “I will enjoy reading this book by the fire at night.” “I needed a new pair of pajamas, and these are perfect.” “I always wanted a skillet with this kind of handle.” “This gift will always remind me of so and so.”
Things have changed over the years. I’m not sure if I have become callous to the season. The build up towards Christmas used to be filled with stories of wise men, shepherds, a virgin, a carpenter, and a baby king. And now, it seems like these stories and this build up gets too easily crowded out by a rush to finish Christmas shopping, to send out the Christmas cards, and to continue with the other things that normally occupy our schedules. My level of expectation during this time is not always the same. I certainly expect the time off to rest and recharge. I like the opportunity to give gifts to my kids and to others. And I still like driving around to look at Christmas lights after Christmas Eve services. Yet it can be challenging to disengage from the busyness of every day life long enough to appreciate the season in the same way I once did.
Yesterday, I was eating breakfast with a good friend of mine. He mentioned that his five-year old daughter was having trouble waiting to open the presents under the tree. I laughed. And we talked about how refreshing it must be to have a little one in the house during Christmas time as it provides us the opportunity to see Christmas again through the eyes of a child.
Perhaps, we need to reexamine our expectations. And maybe, we need to look at Christmas through difference eyes – through child-like eyes. Christmas is a time for great expectations. It is a time to celebrate the coming of our Savior and to look ahead to His return.
We live in a world where many of us our weary from the pushes and pulls of our busy lives. We need to the hope of our Savior. And knowing this hope should bring us a thrill like nothing else. It should renew our expectation for what is to come. It should alter our perspective on Christmas.
As I think again about Christmas, I wonder what expectations Mary had as she journeyed with Joseph to Bethlehem. I wonder about the expectations of the wise men as they traveled from afar in hopes of finding a great king. I wonder what the shepherds were thinking as they left their fields and headed into Bethlehem to follow the instructions of the angels. Were they scared? Maybe. Were they anxious? I wonder. Were they excited? I bet.
May we all healthy expectations as we head celebrate Christmas and look to the year ahead!