Expectations are a powerful force that have the ability to drive human beings to greatness or cripple them from realising their full potential. Leadership author Stephen M.R. Covey highlights the life altering impact of expectations in his book 'The Speed of Trust' - "We tend to get what we expect - both from ourselves and from others. When we expect more, we tend to get more; when we expect less, we tend to get less."
As a leader I understand first hand the tension between my own expectations and those of others and the conflict that is created when those expectations are violated by either party. There is much that could be discussed about expectations from a leadership perspective, but Christmas offers us many other conflicting expectations that are worthy of discussion.
From a historical perspective, Jesus was born into a culture that expected the Messiah to be a warrior who would come and overthrow the Roman Empire, liberating the Jews from oppression. Yet, he came into the world as a baby, born to a virgin in humble and vulnerable circumstances. While he did indeed come to save the world, the manner in which he lived and died defied the expectations of those who awaited the promised Messiah.
The birth narratives of Jesus recorded in Matthew and Luke provide the backdrop for this season we celebrate called Christmas and feature in traditional Christmas carols. Yet, the birth of Christ is conspicuously missing from many of our modern Christmas festivities and songs. The absence of Christ from Christmas outrages the expectations of the Church, while the presence of Christ offends the expectations of a secular community.
This sacred season that evokes expectations of peace, hope, love and joy has evolved into a commercially driven season that is more commonly defined by busyness, stress, over-eating and over-spending. Expectations of gift buying, family gatherings, and holiday schedules have distorted our expectations of a season that is far from being a time of peace, hope, love and joy.
It seems the further our expectations of Christmas move from their origins, the greater the conflict arises from a misalignment of those expectations. Just like the misaligned expectations around the coming Messiah, our Christmas expectations run the risk of completely missing the point of a season that offers everything, but delivers far less. Maybe if we choose to defy the expectations of what Christmas has become, we will rediscover what it was intended to be and experience the life transforming expectations of a God who entered into our world through Jesus Christ. Maybe if we choose to embrace God's expectation of salvation through Jesus Christ, Christmas will be restored to a season of real peace, hope, love and joy.