I love this time of year! The Advent/Christmas season is filled with color; music; family; love; worship services; special food; and memories. For us, there have been plans in place for months. This is especially important for things like airplane tickets! Can anything damage/ruin our Advent/Christmas season? Many years ago, I learned the biggest threat to experiencing special seasons like this are my own expectations.
It’s easy for me to build an image in my head what I think life should be like. This most clearly gets focused when it comes to special events, like vacations and holiday celebrations. The actual experience can be fantastic, while still falling short of what I’ve designed in my mind. How do we respond when reality falls short of our expectations?
Will our lives be changed if we don’t build expectations? This might not matter if we have low expectations, but especially comes into play when we normally have high expectations. We have a choice in this matter. It is possible for us to experience life without coloring these experiences with our expectations. It is easy to say “I can’t help having high expectations” when this just isn’t true. What is it like to experience life with wide-eyed wonder?
Mary and Joseph have been in many of my thoughts. Did they have expectations for their lives? If so, how close do we think their reality fit into their expectations? One of the first things the angel said to Mary was: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God (Luke 1:30)”. Joseph was told by the angel: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20b)”. Both of them received good angelic advice! Fear for our future—especially when it threatens our expectations—can tempt us to make wrong decisions.
Imagine Mary’s possibility of becoming an unmarried mother at a time when it was not tolerated. Until the angel visited him, Joseph must have felt betrayed and fooled by Mary. I wonder if either of them had done much traveling. The prospect of being an immigrant in Egypt likely never made it into their expectations. They might have been hoping for “normal” children. How does that fit with raising the Son of God?
Could anything have prepared Mary and Joseph for the shepherds standing in front of them while Jesus laid in the manger? The shepherds shared all the angel had told them: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger (Luke 2:10-12).” Did Mary and Joseph nod when they heard the angel had said not to be afraid? Luke 2:19 is one of my favorite verses. It says: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”. If not before, by this time I think Mary had stopped trying to anticipate what the future would look like.
Just as Mary and Joseph were on a journey, so are we. Our life’s journey is filled with miracles, and a multitude of twists and turns. Are we willing to let go of our expectations, and fully experience all life brings?
Your brother on the journey, Mark