Christmas is just a couple of days away. In fact, many of us will begin the celebration tomorrow evening. I have fond childhood memories of placing luminarias around our house and atop our adobe-style walls and rooftop on chilly winter afternoons. As the sun set each Christmas Eve, we would light each candle, watching as the paper bags began to glow in the fading light. Later, when we came home from Christmas Eve services at church, we would drive (and sometimes also walk) through the neighborhood, lit with nothing but the warm glow of luminarias. Cars would turn off their headlights and drive slowly through the streets, guided only by those luminarias.
Whenever I am back in Albuquerque for Christmas, I look forward to revisiting that neighborhood on Christmas Eve in order to experience the luminarias again. Sometimes the experience meets my expectations, but other times it doesn’t. (One problem is that newer cars often have safety headlights that cannot be turned off, stabbing the warm glow of candles with intermittent spears of bright electric light. Another is that some folks have decided they must display modern electric Santas alongside the traditional luminarias.)
We all have expectations about our celebrations of Christmas. They’re inevitable, because we have experienced numerous Christmas celebrations over our lifetime. We know what we like. We know what we want. We know what we expect “our” church to do—or not do. We expect to eat certain foods. We expect family members to act in certain ways. We expect the weather to cooperate. The list can go on and on.
The English language is very nuanced. Working with the language as an editor, I often notice how one small change can create a large shift in meaning. Expectations is one such word. Removing the “s” makes a huge difference.
If we have expectations about how Christmas will unfold, we are cheating ourselves of a grand opportunity. When we have expectation, we are looking forward with anticipation rather than assumptions. As we remember the long-ago birth of Jesus, what might happen if we approached our celebration with expectation, with openness and curiosity, rather than with expectations? I believe that, when we do this, there is opportunity for the Spirit to move within us as the various celebrations unfold. We might find Christmas gifts of surprise, grace, and blessing, regardless of whether the particular events do—or do not—occur as we planned or desired.
This year, after all, is unlike any other. Let us watch, with eager expectation, as the Light of the World comes to us, yet again—and ever new.
A very blessed Christmas to you!