Anticipation

Thinking at this time of year about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I wonder what it was like for a woman to be pregnant in those days.  Would Mary have been fearful, anticipating trouble and even the possibility of dying, or would she have been excited, anticipating the new life and wondering what this baby would be like?  I feel virtually certain she never anticipated watching this expected child die by crucifixion.

Anticipation is a tricky thing.  The free and open delight of anticipation is a joy.  I have a photograph of my then two-year-old son watching for the coming of a fireman’s parade.  His face radiates presence and joy.  He had no particular expectations or attachment to what had to happen.  He was just into it.

On the other hand, we can focus so much on what is to come that we miss what is happening in the present.  We can also anticipate negative things, being fearful and anxious, trying to hold onto control, struggling with perfectionism.  This kind of anticipation steals life and squashes the possibility of joy.  Of course, it can be a fact that hard things will happen.   Yet even in such circumstances one can find a peace that allows one to live in anticipation, not of what is to come, but in each moment with the presence and joy that is possible.

At Christmas time it matters what we anticipate.  Anticipating (maybe expecting) happy children and wonderful presents, or too much to do, family feuds, and food you don’t eat will color the whole season.  What we expect to happen usually misses the mark.  What would it be like if we let go of anticipation characterized by expectations, fears, and controlling, and with openness and wonder anticipated Christ’s coming, within ourselves or around us?

Queries:

What is anticipation like for you?

What is the meaning of Christmas for you?  Does it, or could it, include life-giving anticipation?

Prayer:

Take time in the busyness of this season to reflect on your experience of Christmas and make room for the New One to be born.

For further reflection:

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. . . .” (See Isaiah 40: 3-5.)

“The shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place. . . .” (See Luke 2: 8-20.)

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Expectations

In Luke’s Christmas story Zechariah didn’t expect to meet an angel as he was doing his priestly duties, and he didn’t expect that an angel would speak to him. Only becoming unable to talk let him, and others, realize that something special had indeed happened to him. In Matthew’s story Joseph didn’t expect to marry someone who was already pregnant. But he was able to hear the angel and accept what he was told; he went ahead after all and married Mary.

The Christmas season is a time of many expectations. We expect that we can make or buy the perfect gift for everyone on our list, we can do all the extra work that decorating and preparing for the holiday calls for, and we will be together with family members and everyone will get along and be happy. I may expect that my husband will get me something really special and thoughtful. We will do everything the way it has always been done. Or maybe the expectation is to do something different this time, which surely will please everyone. Whatever the expectations, our egos get a workout. Stress levels soar.

Meanwhile, if an angel were to speak to us, we probably would take no notice. Maybe because we would be too busy, maybe because we don’t believe in angels, or maybe because we wouldn’t listen since the word most likely wouldn’t fit into our agenda. And we fail to receive the true gifts of Christmas—light, love, hope, faith, joy, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, new life.

As long as my mother was alive my family celebrated Christmas in much the same way, year after year. But now everything is different, and I can spend a lot of energy longing for some parts of how it used to be. In the remaining days of the Christmas season, I hope I can let go of my door-closing expectations and open to be able to experience wonder, surprise, joy. Everything won’t be smooth or familiar. But I can expect that Christ will be present. I hope I will notice.

Queries:

What memories of Christmas are particularly meaningful to you? Or maybe particularly painful?

What expectations do I need to let go in order to let God/Christ/the Holy Spirit be at work in me this Christmas?

Sometimes the expectation that Christmas will be meaningful is an expectation that closes doors. What would it take to let go of even that?

Prayer:

Sing your favorite Christmas carol. Listen to the Messiah. Find time to be quiet.

For further reference:

“And he shall stand and feed his flock . . . and he shall be the one of peace” (See Micah 5: 2-5a).

“And blessed is she who believed [trusted] that there would be a fulfillment . . .” (See Luke 1: 45).