Nancy and I were talking about why we don’t care for Christmas. It’s not that we are against the Incarnation of Christ. It’s not that we are protesting the commercialization of the holiday. It’s not that we are refusing to take sides in the “Holiday/Christmas” debate.
We realized that it’s about the expectations. There are scheduling expectations, there are emotional expectations, there are gifting expectations. There are even expectations about not getting caught up in the expectations.
“Help,” I said to Saint John. “Can you sort out the struggle with expectations?”
I asked him because John is a pretty good person to talk with about expectancy. He grew up in Malachi-shaped Israel, expecting a prophet like Elijah. He found that prophet in John the baptizer who talked about expecting someone else. He followed the one John pointed to, expecting the kingdom to be established. He expected the resurrection of Jesus. He was told to expect the return of that king, first by Jesus, then again as he took down the Revelation. His whole life was about expectations.
“There’s a difference between expectations and expectancy,” John said. “Jesus almost never lived up to expectations. In fact, he was talking to the religious leaders one day. It was right after the healing we talked about yesterday. He talked to them about how they were ignoring all the things that pointed to him. And he said, ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.’ ”
John started laughing as he was quoting Jesus. “Imagine going to people who are seminary trained, who have memorized the Bible, who have staked their careers on their religious pursuit of telling people how to measure up and saying, ‘I do not think that word means what you think it means.’”
I must have looked a little stressed. John put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m not too worried about you. There were lots of people who read the words and understood them. That’s what I mean by the difference between expectations and expectancy. The religious leaders lived by expectations and Jesus didn’t measure up. But others lived in expectancy. We were waiting for a person who would fulfill the promises, who would bring hope and healing. We were pretty sure that Isaiah was pointing to someone real when he quoted,
‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn.’”
I had to look up those last words for myself because John forgot he was talking to me. He slipped into Hebrew while he was quoting Isaiah. But that was okay. Expectancy can do that. Living in the freedom of hope rather than the chains of expectations can let you forget where you are.