I once had a friend tell me that the problem with my life was that I was too optimistic for my own good. As he saw it, every time I got enthused about something that was yet to come, I was setting myself up for disappointment. All my built-up hopes could never be fully met by the reality of the way things were going to turn out.
I suppose he was right. There are definitely those days when I have made the mistake of focusing on expectations and having my happiness ride on them. My sense of success or accomplishment is often tempered by the knowledge that things didn't turn out exactly as I had planned.
I think it is especially easy to feel this way at Christmas. We often can put so much pressure on ourselves and others to make Christmas fit our vision of the ideal holiday that we can only end up burnt out and disappointed.
What do you do to avoid the expectations of a "perfect Christmas?"
Are you able to look beyond your expectations and recognize the invitation to be part of the miracle and the promise of Christ's birth?
Will you be able to let go of your disappointment at the lack of perfection in Christmas and be able to see the wonderful things happening all around you?
Or are you at risk of sitting outside it all, dressed in your disappointment? (I know it's comfortable, but you'd look so much better in a Christmas sweater!)
It is interesting that as we prepare for Christmas, through the season of Advent, the first Sunday of the preparation is always dark. The readings are about the end of time, the sky turning black. Some of us have experienced Christmas like this: it's not perfect. The right people don't show up or they do and then they don't do the right things...the meal goes all wrong...the gifts don't arrive...those people sat in your favourite spot in church (and they only come at Christmas and Easter!)...and all of a sudden it's the end of the world. Everything is spoiled. Christmas goes from sweet to bitter; from joy to stress...and everything is ruined!! (Time to start wrapping yourself in disappointment.)
Of course, the third week in Advent brings us an invitation from John the Baptist to "prepare the way of the Lord"; open ourselves up to the coming of Jesus; to God breaking into our regular routine lives. But we can't really hear or act on that invitation if we are still stuck in the dark "end of the world" feeling that comes with high expectations.
"Come on," says John, "let go of the darkness and prepare for the light...never mind what you thought might happen, look at what is happening!"
The fourth Sunday of Advent brings the story of Mary and the realization that this is all very personal; not abstract or happening to someone else. God is coming into your life...you don't have to go searching, you only need to say "yes" - just like Mary.
But it is so hard to say "yes" when we are focused on what might have been, what should have been and what will never be because our expectations haven't been met.
It's stunning to see how real this little Advent drama is. It isn't something the Church dreamed up for something to do in December - it is a truthful, often accurate description of the human journey from dark to light; from disappointment to engagement; from confusion to discovery.
It is an invitation for each of us to let go of our expectations and embrace the miracle that is happening all around us. To let go of what we thought should happen at Christmas dinner and enjoy the pasta that is being served instead of turkey; enjoy the children who aren't acting like angels; embrace that person or moment that we didn't expect to come along this year. It is an invitation for us to let go of what we expect God to be or do in our lives, and open ourselves up to God breaking in to our lives in new ways; new traditions, new faces, and unexpected moments.
As we accept this invitation and let go of our devotion to our expectations, we just might find Christmas...we just might experience the presence of God...something entirely new just might be born to us, through us and deep inside us.
My prayer for you is just that...God's presence in new and unexpected packages...oh, and something cozy to wear, after all you won't need to wear your disappointment this year.