I am in that part of the Christmas season where my best intentions for the season are starting to come undone.
Each year, I resolve to get started early with my wrapping, make time for quiet and prayer, listen to more music (Annie Lennox’s Christmas CD remains my favorite, at least in principle), and let myself really settle into the festivity.
I also have this vision that I’ll have found the perfect gift for each person, and secured it, months ago, leaving me little to do in December except watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and drink hot chocolate.
Well, once again I’m not quite there yet.
Advent, the season before Christmas, is often described as one of “waiting and expectation.”
But in our world, “expectations” have come to mean something different than they once did. When we talk about “expectations,” we’re often referring to measurement and evaluation in some way. I shudder to think of the offices where Monday morning post-mortems of Christmas will unfold: “So did Christmas meet or exceed your expectations this year?”
If I’m honest, I know that my intentions for the season are, in their own way, about that sort of expectations, too — was I organized enough about the tasks of Christmas this year? Was I tracking who-likes-what closely enough that I was “ready to go” ahead of the predictable bottlenecks?
If I’m not careful, that kind of “expectation” can turn Christmas into little more than an exercise in clearing my desk before a vacation.
Advent is supposed to take us outside of all that — to remind us about a bigger sort of hope and imagination. It’s about Expectation with a capital “E.”
It’s less about practicalities (important as those are) and more about remembering what it feels like to dream.
This seems to have gotten harder for us, and is all the more important for just that reason.
Our gathering, our exchanging gifts, our effort at getting lights on a tree and remembering to water it — all “the things” of Christmas aren’t just another to-do list to get through. They’re invitations to dream again. To say how much we love and feel grateful for one another. To practice caring.
Because the expectations that matter most are not the little performance measures we can come to live by all too easily. The expectations that matter are the ones that give us life and hope — the expectation of an even greater love that is to come, for us and for all people.
May we all find our spirits brightened by that kind of expectations in these coming weeks.
See you in church,
I knew she would ask me one day and I promised I’d never lie to her about it. I was picking Molly up from school and as I lifted her up into her car seat she asked me,
“Dad, is Santa real?”
She caught me off guard.
“Um…” I blurted out as I now was facing a question I thought I was prepared to answer.
Should I tell her? Will she understand? Will people think I’m some kind of Scrooge for ruining her childhood? I did what any good pastor would do, I quoted the Bible. Molly, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child I reasoned like a child; when I was a became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). It worked. I was proud of myself but it triggered a thought about the way people wrestle with Scripture today. When they approach Scripture as adults using the logic they held as children, the story of Scripture becomes as silly as Santa. I hear it all the time,
Issues with “that angry white-bearded God” in the Old Testament.
The way they treated women and children.
Wrapping our heads around the idea of miracles.
How dare God let evil exist?
Talking snakes, donkeys, and Jonah living in the belly of a whale.
It’s just a book of myths and fairy tales!
These were stories that were told to us as children but for many they lost value for us as adults. It’s likely this is the reason a book we consider handed down to us by God often becomes an untouched accessory on our bookshelves and in our pews.
And so we are left with a choice. Do we continue to tell these stories in the same way we were told growing up? Or, do we dare to have the courage to face the narrative of Scripture as adults. We may be uncomfortable with what we find but I believe it’s in that discomfort that we can hear Scripture no longer as children but as adults. When I face it now I see a new story in Scripture that prods my understanding,
Why was God so angry with humanity in the Old Testament?
How can we give women and children a voice today?
Can God use our church to miraculously feed 50 people at a mens homeless shelter?
What can I do to partner with God and stop injustice in this world?
What is creation crying out for us to hear?
All Christians are called to spiritually grow, to spiritually evolve, and to spiritually adapt. Peter expresses this in his first letter by saying, “grow up in your salvation.”
For now, I’ll tell Molly that she can believe in Santa, that Jonah was in the belly of a whale, and that an apple is why there is bad in the world. But as she grows I’ll teach her that the story has a deeper meaning. That Santa embodies a spirit of giving and even though Old St. Nick doesn’t come down our chimney, that spirit can come forth out from her soul.
Let us dare to see what others cannot see, to hear what others cannot hear, and to allow the Spirit to provoke our imagination from the stories we find in the Bible.
O’ the wonders Jesus still has yet to do through his people. He proclaims “you will do greater things than I.”
Be wrapped up in the gift of Christ as we move into Advent.