At some point, I’m going to have to admit the truth: my Christmas crafts will never, ever look like the pictures on Pinterest. This year, for example, the homemade ornament I crafted looked suspiciously like an enormous Coronavirus cell. But my sighing over such superficial things represents a deeper yearning—that somehow, at Christmas, strained relationships would be healed, and that we’d at least get a respite from the griefs and groanings of this broken world. After all, these are the Christmas dreams we sing about in the third stanza of “Joy to the World”:
“No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground
he comes to make His blessings flow
far as the curse is found.
One day, when Jesus returns, he will obliterate all sin, sorrow, and thorns. But until then, we live with the gap between our expectations for the season and the reality.
Waiting on Christmas Dreams
The question is, even as we groan, can we grow in the gap? Let’s consider some of the key characters at that first Christmas. What gaps did they experience? What enabled them to respond well?
We can summarize the gap for Mary in two words: stable and sword. First, the stable. When Mary, newly pregnant, burst forth in exuberant praise in the Magnificat, proclaiming that the Lord has “exalted those of humble estate,” she probably didn’t expect to lay her tender newborn, the long-promised Messiah, in a bed of prickly straw. Surely a part of her was confused by the incongruity of it all. Then, eight days later, when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be circumcised, Simeon said to her: “Behold. . . a sword will pierce through your own soul also. . .” (Luke 2:34-35). We can almost hear her thinking, “A sword? Gabriel didn’t mention a sword.”
Scripture gives us three instances when Joseph faced an expectations gap: First, when Mary told him she was pregnant; second, when the angel confirmed this really was an immaculate conception; and third, after Jesus’s birth, when Joseph learned that Herod was bent on killing Jesus, necessitating a quick escape to Egypt. Joseph soon realized he wasn’t calling the shots, but rather that he was an instrument in God’s plans.
Thankfully, sometimes reality exceeds our expectations. Such was the case for the Christmas dreams of the shepherds who met baby Jesus. Immediately after the angels left, the shepherds rounded up their flock and headed to find the baby lying in a manger—an adjustment they gladly made for the sake of laying eyes on the Savior of the world.
The Wise Men
When they learned of Herod’s scheme to kill Jesus, and how close they came to reveal the whereabouts of his supposed rival, we can only imagine their distress. They too were happy to adjust their plans.
Submitting our Dreams to God’s Plans
What do these people have in common? What helped them come to grips with the gap between their expectations and reality? In a word, meekness—a sweet and hope-filled submission to the way God is orchestrating events, even if it involves suffering, sacrifice, or a shelving of precise plans and dearly held dreams. It means taking to heart dying to self, seeking first the kingdom of God, and saying with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
How do we get there ourselves? Let’s start with prayer: Lord, please give us a spirit of humility and contrition over the ways we’ve elevated our plans above your own. Fill our hearts and minds with a vision of being fruitful in pursuing your kingdom, with all of the adjustments that requires–starting this season, but continuing throughout the year. In Jesus’s name, amen.