Familiarity can be comforting. Life feels simpler and more manageable when we know what to expect. And in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I like routines. My wife would be quick to affirm that there are things I like doing in a particular way, and in some cases, at a particular time, or maybe on particular days. I consider my approach to those things to be perfectly reasonable. It’s my own small contribution to the world’s endless quest to know how things ought to be done. It follows, then, that random, unannounced, and unexpected alterations in any of these areas can feel uncomfortable, disruptive, and irritating. It’s also understandable, then, that I prefer to avoid circumstances that get in the way of doing things the way they ought to be done. In spite of that, 2020 happened anyway.
A Tough Year ~ As our year of dashed expectations and unanticipated changes unfolded, like everyone else, we were smacked around with random restrictions, mandatory requirements, and unanticipated shortages. Dire predictions of impending death and disaster from the COVID invasion were flying around like mosquitoes on a warm summer evening. And to top it off, anarchists were rioting–uh, ’scuse me– “protesting” in our streets, burning buildings, injuring innocent people, pulling down statues, and destroying vehicles. Demonstrating mind-numbing irony, they shouted for “justice” while they brazenly flaunted the entire jurisprudence system day after day with no accountability. Whatever Christmas 2020 turns out to be, it will be vastly different from what we expected it to be 12 months ago, and it will culminate a year full of dashed hopes and dreams.
If altered expectations in minor categories can be disquieting, where does that leave us when some of the most trusted and familiar parts of our lives are suddenly torn away? Routines and patterns of life that were so important to our sense of comfort and stability have not only been lost, they have been replaced by intrusive and deeply disturbing new requirements. It’s natural to wonder whether there’s any expectation left that we can trust. That same question might have occurred to a young Jewish couple who were going through their own gauntlet of altered circumstances and dashed expectations in Israel a long time ago.
Changes on the Way ~ Mary’s list of familiar routines and her vision for the future would look quite different from those experienced by girls in their mid teens today, but they were just as real and just as normal for her. No doubt, she had expectations of what her wedding would be like and how married life would feel afterward. Her fiancé, of course, had his own set of expectations about what the future would hold. The life they envisioned together would have helped to make facing the transitions ahead of them seem less scary and more manageable. But all of that changed when an extraterrestrial being dropped by and proceeded to summarily upend every expectation they had and introduce a new one that no one could have anticipated.
Forgive me for inserting a pointless digression, but I can’t help wondering what Gabriel looked like. I don’t know how Mary knew he was an angel. I don’t think he came drifting into the room on wings dressed in elaborate flowing robes, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t glow in the dark or have a halo around his head. He could have had one of those lanyard things around his neck with his official credentials printed on it, but I doubt it. Perhaps it was his demeanor, or the tone of absolute authority in his voice. Whatever it was, something about him made it clear that he wasn’t from around there. Regardless, what arrested her attention initially was not his appearance. It was his totally unexpected, and from her perspective, unwarranted, greeting. Luke reports it this way:
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28 NKJV)
Gabriel might well have added, “You might want to pause and take a deep breath, Mary, because I’m about to eliminate every concept you have about who you are and why you’re here. Then I’m going to change every expectation you ever had about the life you’re going to live.” His salutation was just the beginning of a long list of altered expectations that Mary was about to experience. To put it in today’s terms, her “profile” was about to undergo a radical and irreversible revision at every level.
Radical Revelations ~ Whatever she anticipated about the future, Mary’s godly lifestyle would have denied any expectation that she would be “expecting” in the very near future, even in the context of normal relational circumstances. But given the way the angel said it was going to happen, such a thing was beyond incomprehensible. Given the staggering implications of what was happening, it’s surprising that Mary’s mind could even formulate a question, but she did manage to insert a piece of biological reality and ask how he was going to work around that. Gabriel’s response left out a lot of details, but after giving a brief report on some supernatural stuff God was doing with her cousin, Elizabeth, He concluded with a single reassuring declaration:
For with God nothing will be impossible. (Luke 1:37 NKJV)
The days ahead were radically altered from what they expected. Their world was shattered by shocking revelations followed by dashed wedding plans coupled with potential public humiliation. Joseph’s plan to break off his relationship with Mary prompted another unexpected angelic intervention that resulted in more unexpected changes in their plans. And so the story goes, one expectation after another was snatched away and replaced by harsh realities that were never contemplated.
Only One Expectation Remained ~ The expectation that Mary would give birth to her miraculous baby with the help of midwives and in the reasonable comfort of their home in Nazareth disappeared with a Roman decree about taxes. The expectation that they would at least find suitable housing in Bethlehem was dashed by innkeepers unwilling to accommodate them. Any expectation that their baby would be welcomed into the world in the presence of loving friends and family was rendered impossible. Instead, they found themselves alone in a stable among the livestock. No one showed up to share the joy of the new life God sent them except some local shepherds they’d never met. At this point, they had no expectation left that wasn’t destroyed . . . except one.
Gabriel’s visit inserted one “grand expectation” into Mary’s life that overshadowed everything else. That is that she would have a personal, irrevocable, and eternal relationship with the Son of God, Himself. By the time they arrived in that stable in Bethlehem, that expectation was the only one she had left, but in the final analysis, it was the only one that really mattered. It was also the only one that could never be taken from her.
2020’s Christmas List ~ As 2020 replaces our normal Christmas list with a list of disappointments and dashed expectations, Mary and Joseph’s story leaves us with a couple of lessons worth remembering. One is that God can show up unannounced on any given day and adjust or remove every expectation we have. But He can also replace them with one we can never lose. Through the One who entered this sin-cursed world that night in Bethlehem, we can have our own personal, irrevocable, and eternal relationship with God, Himself. That is the one expectation that will survive and overcome anything the world can produce. Paul expressed it eloquently:
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39 NKJV)
So, the question that remains is not how many Christmas expectations have been snatched away this year. It’s whether we have the “One” that will survive and overcome everything.
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- “Through the One who entered this sin-cursed world that night in Bethlehem, we can have our own personal, irrevocable, eternal relationship with God, Himself … the one expectation that will survive & overcome anything the world can produce.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “… Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The question that remains is not how many Christmas expectations have been snatched away this year. It’s whether we have the “One” that will survive and overcome everything.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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