The current earworm is "There's a New World Coming," by Bryan Moyer Suderman and it's part of a larger album called "Detectives of Divinity," which was also the theme of our pageant. Like most children's music, the songs are super catchy, so they become embedded quite quickly. I've pretty much had pageant songs running through my head for two months, but since yesterday, it's just been the one song on repeat.
There's a new world coming, it's already here
There's a new world on its way
There's a new world coming, it's already here
Let's begin to live that wayIt's all about the visions for a renewed and reconciled creation that we see in Isaiah, Zechariah and Revelation. But the entire album and the pageant are about looking for glimpses or clues of that new world, clues that might come in unexpected places or take shapes that are surprising or mysterious. That's been our theme for Advent generally as well. "Oh that you would reveal your mystery," (Leader, 2014). There's an acknowledgement that in order to live into the new world that is already here, but yet not complete, we'll have to look and listen and become aware of God's presence and activity in our midst.
This seems to me almost the most counter-cultural thing that I can think of at Christmas. Not that this is a tremendously unique theme. It comes up in some form or another every year B in the Revised Common Lectionary since the readings for Advent ooze the message of Christ's coming, and second coming. But this is not the message of Christmas in our culture, not from my experience. The main message is not mystery, it is not "pay attention and welcome the unexpected", it is "meet these expectations...or else!"
Whenever I walk through stores or watch Christmas movies, I am made aware again and again of how many expectations there are for the Christmas "experience." There are expectations for how we show love, how we dress, how we behave (children, youth and adults), how we react, how we prepare, what we eat, and how all of this should look in the end. The images are so strong and repetitive that I think it's really hard to not buy into them. It's hard not to let those artificially constructed ideals embed themselves deeply inside of us, taking up space, pushing out mystery. And even though the church (I mean church very broadly here) might voice the counter-cultural message of mystery or the unexpected, we too have long-held expectations.
The thing about having expectations, or having a mantra of shoulds running rampant through heart and mind, is that those expectations are never are fully realized. They're ideals (of a sort), that cannot be fully satisfied. The turkey will never be quite as golden as the one on the cover of the cookbook (because that one has been spray painted!), our children will never be quite as angelic (because they are human), the house will never be as clean (because all of us are human!), and the list could go on. Reality is just never quite as perfect as a movie or a magazine.
So, some simply lower their standards. Let's all just wear jeans. Let's just order in pizza. But even lower standards reveal expectations. They're just a different set, it seems to me. Shifting expectations is a bit like using a technical solution for an adaptive problem (a favourite phrase of one of my seminary profs). It's dealing with a symptom without looking for what those symptoms might be trying to reveal. If the problem is getting our whole family in one location for a picture, the answer is surely Photoshop, right? Maybe not.
Perhaps, our expectations are simply symptoms of our deepest longings. Expectations for a family photo with everyone smiling might reveal a deeper longing for connection and real joy. Expectations for our children to experience some type of magical Christmas miracle, might reveal a longing for wonder and awe in our own lives. I wonder if, as we focus on the expectations, we end up placing our hope in a coupon code for free shipping, rather than waiting in hope for God's revelation. Maybe, when we focus so intently on what we think Christmas joy and miracles look like, we miss God's revelation which might be a brilliant and perhaps entirely unexpected response to our very real longings for authentic relationship, joy, belonging, meaningful work, justice, mercy, and love of self, God and other. Maybe, just maybe, the Christmas disaster of a burnt turkey, or gifts stolen from the back of a car are just what is needed.
Over the past number of years I've had a taste of God's sense of humour, or God's mystery and honestly, I don't want to let it go. This is quite something for a 6 on the Enneagram, who tends to value predictability, organization, control and generally anything that will reduce anxiety. But truly, God's mystery is so much more life-giving than all the expectations that I want to immerse myself in the hope that in Christ's coming God did a very new thing. I want to immerse myself in the awe and wonder that comes when God inspires a completely new, and maybe even bizarre response, to an old problem. I want to immerse myself in the freedom that comes with releasing the need to know, the need to control, and the need to orchestrate the healing and reconciling work of God. I want to immerse myself in the gift of waiting and watching and listening, because the unexpected is so much more interesting, so much more awe-inspiring, so much more brilliant than anything my mind (or Hollywood's) might construct.
This Christmas I pray that I will have the opportunity to be surprised like the shepherds. I pray that my expectations of the holy won't be so bound that I cannot witness the face of Christ when I encounter it in my family, my friends, my church, my community or the world. I pray that I will have the chance to experience the unexpected and see the new world coming, even if just in glimpses.