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,