Await the Lord with an Open Heart
My second-favorite Christmas movie is “The Santa Clause” (“White Christmas” is no. 1). There’s a great scene where Charlie’s parents, Neal and Laura, are discussing when they stopped believing in Santa. Both of them nostalgically realize that the Santa bubble popped when they desperately hoped for, and expected to receive, an Oscar Meyer weenie whistle and the Mystery Date Game, respectively, but, as Neal laments, “Christmas came and no weenie whistle.”
In a similar way, the season of Advent is marked by joyful and hopeful expectation. As Christians, we are awaiting the birth of Christ. The Church encourages us to be patient, wait with longing and allow Jesus to prepare us for his coming. However, too often we approach Christmas and God’s action in our lives much like Neal and Laura. We long for certain things to happen and important prayers to be answered, but when our expectations aren’t met, our faith diminishes and we question whether we need to “grow up” and recalibrate our understanding of who God is and what he can do for us. We approach God on our terms, expecting him to act as Jesus Claus, ready to give us what we want as long as we’re good. This posture stymies our ability to authentically “grow and go” because by trying to subject God to our desires, we elevate ourselves above his plan and authority. Then, when our desires aren’t met to our exact specifications, the disappointment we feel is directed at God, instead of the true culprit of broken expectations, which is ourselves.
Even though the prophets foretold the coming of Christ, few could have foreseen and believed that God would come to earth in this most hidden manner. From Mary, to Joseph, to the Wise Men, and even Herod, all of the characters of the Christmas story wrestled with God exceeding, adapting or obliterating their expectations. When we humbly ask the Father for things but remain open and obedient to his response and action, we avoid the damage of unfilled expectations and instead receive the joy of living within his divine will, which is occasionally confounding, often unexpected, but always good. As Christians, we’ve been given a sneak peek of where this most miraculous story leads (the ultimate defeat of sin and death through Jesus’ death and resurrection), but Advent allows us to reset our expectations, marvel at the creativity and humility of God and, eventually, approach the stable like the shepherds: hopeful, joyful and expectant. They arrived before the Lord with empty hands but open hearts. May we do the same.