Christmas Expectations

A few years ago, a friend bought my family a new nativity set at a fair-trade store. It was made in Africa and is different from any creche I had ever seen.

The first time I was setting it out in our front hallway, I kept thinking, “Something seems off about this scene.” My mom was helping me and I finally asked her, “Do these animals seem unusually large to you? Why are the cow and the camel so big? They’re like bigger than the people!” 

And then we laughed because in real life, cows and camels are indeed bigger than people.

The nativity set that I grew up with had tiny little sheep and sweet little cows. I’d lived with it for so long that somehow animals being smaller than people was what I considered normal.

Perspective is everything.

I’ve thought about the importance of perspective several times during this Advent season, especially when my plans have gone sideways. I have fairly rigid ideas about how Christmas preparations should go and I always fall short.

Every year, somehow, Christmas sneaks up on me. I intend to order our Christmas cards early; I intend to buy gifts locally; I intend to spend time preparing my heart for the gift of Christ’s birth.

Instead, I’m frantically checking my order to see when my cards will finally arrive; I’m buying stuff online in the middle of the night; I’m wondering why Jesus demands so much fuss about his birth for the 2000th time. 

It always feel like I never do enough to make Christmas special; my husband thinks I do too much. When I commandeer the kitchen and announce, “I’m making 35 chocolate chip pies. No one ask me for anything to eat,” I think I’m on a Christmas roll. My husband thinks I seem a little insane. It is hard to find a healthy balance.

Walking past our creche countless times a day is a good visual reminder that my perspective might be a little skewed. My ideas about what Christmas should look and feel like are complicated and deeply ingrained. Seeing that big ole camel peering over the tiny baby Jesus reminds me that all of my “shoulds” aren’t Gospel truth. Just like I mixed up whether people or animals were bigger, I  mix up what is true about Christmas.

There’s a part of me that fears that Christmas happens for our family only because I do all the things to make it happen. This is way too much pressure and simply isn’t true in the larger scheme of things. Christmas is more than my lists and expectations; instead, it is about love and God becoming flesh and hope. 

So, yes, I wish my cards had arrived and that I had presents for all of my kids. I wish I hadn’t just said to my husband, “There’s no way we’re going to pull off Christmas this year. It’s impossible.” I wish there weren’t so many demanding messages in my head about what Christmas should look like.

Nonetheless, baby Jesus is coming, no matter what is done or left undone. There are some big animals and little people and a whole broken world waiting for him. Come, Lord Jesus. We are ready. 

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  • I think that Mary probably had a bunch of expectations about how it was going to go down, too, and it did not involve a stable, and a manger, and a new job of guarding the crib against animals who wanted their food, regardless of whatever little bundle was there. But I suspect that Jesus comes to all of us with a touch of hide-and-seek attitude. Ready or not, here I come!

    I take comfort in that fact. There is joy in that manger, whether or not the 34th chocolate chip pie gets made. Unspeakable gift, ineffable joy.