"Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people." This passage in Luke ushers in the Advent story in the Gospels. An angel appears and tells a group of shepherds that something wonderful and joyous is going to happen. Can you imagine the look on their face, or the questions they might have asked immediately after the angel disappeared? Can you see them standing there on a dark hill, rubbing their eyes and asking each other if they had just hallucinated that whole encounter?
Then they went to Bethlehem and found this baby in a cave lying among some farm animals. Once again, how cynical do you think they were that something remarkable had happened? Sure, there was a baby there, and sure, an angel had appeared to them, but once they got to Bethlehem, I'm sure that seeing this young mother and her betrothed in rags with this helpless, tiny baby looked terribly uninspiring. This is how God was revealing something new in the world? This was the way the people were supposed to feel the joyous news that a savior is born? I can't imagine how difficult it would be for me to go out as a shepherd and share this news with people, as I myself would have a hard time thinking that it meant all that much. It would still be years before Christ's ministry began, and still generations after that before the Christian church actually began to influence the world. What could these shepherds have possibly expected on this Christmas day?
As Christmas has become even more commercialized, more frantic, and more stressful, we've begun to try and dress up the holiday with more and more rituals that have nothing to do with the joyous news that a savior had been born in the world. I believe that we too have great cynicism about what it meant for God step into the world in such an incredible and compassionate way. The "Good news" apparently hasn't been good enough for us, and we've let distractions pull us in every direction but the little cave and the little baby and the parents in rags that watched over him.
What do you expect? Is it important that God came into the world once on that first Christmas morning? Is it important that God is still revealing the work of Jesus to the world through the work of the Spirit? For too many people, the idea of God revealed just doesn't make our list of holiday priorities. Sure, we might take a moment to say a prayer at Christmas dinner, or even haul the whole family off to church for a hectic hour of our favorite hymns at worship. But our expectations are often that the good news of Jesus is a sidebar to the festivities we've really made Christmas about.
This year, how can you change your expectations? What is in the way of feeling the hope, peace, love and joy that God offered during Advent? What are you willing to give up so that you can focus more fully on the reality that God came into the world two thousand years ago, and if you create space for Christ once more, the Spirit of God will be in your presence again this season? This season can be one that rushes by in a flash of torn wrapping paper, too many desserts, and an agonizing slog back to work the day after Christmas that leaves you wondering what just happened. Or, if you change your expectations; if you increase your focus on what God is doing in this church, in your life, and in this community, it can become something more joyous and good than any celebration you've ever experienced. What do you expect? How will those expectations be moved by God's work in your life?