By: Nick McDowell
Christmas. It’s upon us once again. It’s crazy. It’s chaotic. It’s fun. It’s stressful. It’s full of laughter. It’s lonely. It’s painful. It’s joyful. It has become a lot of things to me over the years, but one thing is for certain, I always have some level of expectation for the Christmas season. In ministry world where I dwell, I often expect a very full calendar for the month of December, lots of church and school events to attend, and a body and mind that reaches their max capacity before Christmas even gets here. While I know that things will be busier than usual, I also appreciate the positive side. I expect those in my church and our school to generously help others in need, to see wide-eyed and excited children eager to perform in their Christmas programs, and to make some new memories with my family. What are YOU expecting this Christmas?
One of the things I remember most about Christmas as a child was the anticipation I had for Christmas day. Maybe you had one of those special Christmas calendars or Christmas count-downs for your family? We had this picture of a snow-covered town set in the early 1900s that my mom would put on the refrigerator. There were 25 tiny squares spread out on the picture with a number on it that folded back like windows. As each day in December went by, my sister and I would fold back the square that corresponded to what day it was. There was a bible verse on the back side of each flap that connected to Jesus’ birth and we would read it together. I wish I could say I paid that much attention to the verses I read, but my real focus was on the presents I looked forward to opening. That is where the expectation and anticipation was coming from. With each day ticking by I was one day closer to all the “loot” I would get. Don’t judge! Just being transparent here. You know you’ve done the same thing!
The expectations would start months beforehand. I grew up in a pre-internet world for most of my childhood and I relied on the ever-sacred JC Penney Catalog. For those of you who might not know, these were large magazines that contained photos of items that you could purchase by calling a phone number or sending in an order form by mail. It was also a way to know precisely what a store had before you went there in person. I know it’s weird to not shop online, but it’s what people did back then. I would go to the toys section of that catalog and circle all of the things I wanted Santa to bring me. While I knew I wouldn’t get everything I circled, after a few years I learned to at least expect a few of the things to show up under my parents or grandparents Christmas trees. I believed that something would be there. I expected it. What are YOU expecting this Christmas?
We live in a fast-paced, instant-gratification society. It’s hard for us to imagine anticipating something for a very long time. It’s hard to have an attitude of expectancy when we get so discouraged so quickly because something hasn’t happened as soon as we had hoped. The Jewish people were certainly feeling discouraged when Jesus came onto the scene. It had been approximately 400 years since any prophet had spoken a word from God. God’s chosen people didn’t feel very “chosen” with Rome and many of their religious leaders oppressing them in their day-to-day lives. There was little reason to hope in those days. And yet it was at this time that God sent His only Son to become one of us, to put on flesh and blood and experience all the turmoil and challenges that we as humans experience each and every day.
While the environment would have been a challenging one, there were still many who maintained the hope and faith that the Messiah would come and come soon. Two people who exemplify this attitude in Scripture are Simeon and Anna. In Luke 2 we read about each of them. While we know little about them, this is what we do know:
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
~ Luke 2:25-32
“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
~ Luke 2:36-38
What we can see modeled by these two individuals is a willingness to wait, to trust, to hope, and to expect that God will move in a mighty way. Anna was very old, and it is believed that Simeon would have been old as well. It would have been easy to have given up hope as the years went by. To assume that perhaps they misheard God or that nothing significant would happen in their lifetimes…certainly not the arrival of the Messiah they had waited so long for.
They remained expectant though. I know this because when you maintain an attitude and mindset of expectancy for God’s movement you continue along His path. You remain obedient and faithful. You continue to seek Him out. You listen for His voice and follow His directions. You continue to lean in and cling to hope. Anna never left the temple. Simeon had the Holy Spirit upon him and was righteous and devout. They weren’t distracted by the oppressive circumstances of their world. They continued to expect God to come through. And He did!
What are YOU expecting this Christmas? Maybe you are expecting a wonderful Christmas. Maybe you aren’t looking forward to Christmas due to the loss of a loved one or current circumstances in your life. Maybe you are simply not expecting much of anything…Christmas to be busy, come and then go. Perhaps in the midst of our excitement, pain, or general busy-ness, we might quiet ourselves, seek God as Anna and Simeon did, and develop an attitude of expectancy. Perhaps we will choose to believe that God will do something in our lives and in the lives of those around us this Christmas. Maybe instead of anticipating the “loot” under our Christmas trees like I did as a child, we might anticipate the mighty movement of God in our lives?
I expected to get presents on Christmas because my parents and grandparents had always come through. Should I not also expect God to move in my life this Christmas because He has always shown Himself to be faithful time and time and again? May we be like Simeon and Anna this Christmas, seeking the Lord in obedience, faithfulness, and expectancy that He will move, lives will be changed, and His Kingdom will continue to break through the darkness.
What are YOU expecting this Christmas?
Nick serves as the Associate Pastor at Countryside Church of the Nazarene.