Snowflakes fall silently from the sky as bright-eyed little faces peer out frost-covered windows. Best friends gather around a candlelit table, dishes clanking, laughter wafting in the air. Family members from far away places knock at your door, excitement erupting into hugs and hellos the moment you welcome them inside.
An ideal Christmas is easy to imagine. But it’s hard to live out.
Despite what commercials portray and Facebook depicts, life’s celebrations are often far from perfect. Our children misbehave at the worst possible moment. Our plans get altered at the last minute. Our family’s disfunction erupts at the table.
If there’s anything I’m learning this Christmas season, it’s to let go of expectations. It feels easier this year. After all the loss we’ve endured, after all the flexibility we’ve needed, Christmas seems to require a certain simplicity this year.
In the simplicity, there’s laughter. In the unscheduled, there’s play. In the messiness, there’s joy.
Isn’t that how it’s always been? In the letting go—in the release—we find the thing we’ve been longing for all this time.
Just consider the Christmas characters:
Elizabeth released her hope of a child, only to inaugurate Messiah’s coming.
Mary surrendered her plans for the future, birthing the giver of eternal life.
Joseph lives as a refugee, embracing the One who is God with Us.
The wise men followed an uncommon star, discovering the Light of the World.
The nativity reminds us that God shows up in the unexpected places. He greets us in the release—when we open our hands and surrender our expectations. And he exceeds any hopes and plans.
This year what are you holding onto? What expectations feel important?
Take a few minutes to look closely and listen deeply. Then decide if they’re something worth letting go.
In the place of exhausting expectations, allow yourself to create space. Celebrate the simple traditions, the ones that deepen your understanding of Christ’s incarnation. Let yourself linger at the dinner table, surrounded by the people you love most. Spend a few moments gazing at the Christmas tree before you turn off the lights tonight.
This Christmas may look different than others. Your family may be separated. Your tree may be sparse with gifts. Your joy may feel gone.
But take heart.
The one who came to earth in the most unexpected manner meets us in the sorrow, longing, and fatigue. His advent teaches us to release our expectations that we might find something that far exceeds what we hoped or planned.
No doubt that’s what Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and the wisemen would tell us. Their journeys were messy and fraught with pain. But their windy roads brought them to inexplicable joy.
So as we prepare for our Christmas celebrations, let’s leave the dreamy snow-filled scenes and lavish party settings to the commercials. Let’s release whatever expectations we packaged up for 2020. And let’s embrace what’s right before us.
Welcome the laughter. Allow the messiness. Invite the unexpected.
In the simplicity we might just find what we really long for this Christmas—joy.