By Nikki Wuu
It happens every December 25th. The buildup, the anticipation, the climax. The disappointment. I wish I were talking about something else–like a vacation, my birthday, (I’m NOT talking about sex) or even the sugar cookies I always burn. Because you’d think I should know better. (Yeah, about the cookies–parchment paper …)
But at the end of the day, every ounce of adrenaline that surged through my veins the past four weeks has completely dried up and is replaced by dirty dishes, shredded wrapping paper, and an empty feeling in the pit of my soul. Once again, I realize nothing about Christmas has exceeded, or even met, my expectations. Disappointment sets in, so I reach for another burnt cookie.
It’s taken me nearly 40 years to realize the problem lies with my expectations. Stay with me while I go deeper.
Starting November 1st, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are my default. My husband thinks I’ve gone to the dark side. He smirks every time he catches me in the act. He wonders what I see in their formulaic plots that go something like this:
- Opening: Upbeat Christmas music, with (usually New York) city skyline.
- Main Character: Good-looking, likable, but overworked person, who has forgotten what Christmas is all about.
- Plot thickens: Protagonist somehow finds self transported to a rural setting, complete with small-town charms and fake snow. There is some important task to accomplish here. All the while, our hero encounters townspeople who have chosen the tranquil, meaningful life over big city buzz.
- Protagonist gets reluctantly paired with a charming counterpart of the opposite sex, where there is simultaneously relationship chemistry AND animosity. This counterpart is ALWAYS involved in helping underprivileged children in the community.
- The two, despite their differences, manage to get coffee, fall in love, and complete the important task (that usually involves the children mentioned above) in 10-12 minutes.
- Next, an old flame–a lesser romantic interest with flawed character traits, usually materialism– surfaces, because, there isn’t enough Christmas drama yet, but …
- True love eventually prevails, and all of the deep, previously unmet Christmas dreams are realized, as the smiling, needy children exclaim, “This is the greatest Christmas ever!”
- Cue digital snow and a winking, bell-ringing Santa.
Christmas, happily ever after, with only a few incontinence commercials thrown in.
I think I’ve figured it out. I crave these movies because of their predictably happy endings: all hopes realized, all dreams fulfilled. The best, most beautiful Christmas ever. And shouldn’t it always be that way?
After all, wasn’t this how it happened that first night? Beautiful angels, dazzling the skies, with shepherds and sheep marveling. A star, camel-riding kings from the East bearing the first extravagant Christmas gifts. A stable, snug and warm with accommodating animals gently looking on, as a baby is born “silently” because “no crying He makes”. Joseph huddles around Mary as she holds a glowing child, possibly with a halo. “All is calm, all is bright.” Unsurpassable beauty is the backdrop to tranquility, warmth, and deep, personal fulfillment.
That’s how I’ve always pictured it.
But as I crack open my Bible this December, I am experiencing some cognitive dissonance. Here, I see brutal reality, pain, confusion, and a million untied loose ends:
- Terrified shepherds are paid a visit. (Think powerful, mighty messengers of God instead of winged ballerinas with tights.) (Luke 2:9)
- Ancient astrologers, tracking a star they hoped would lead them to the political King of the Jews. This is no easy journey, with no certain destination. Along the way, they meet, and later avert, a power-hungry, murderous king. (Luke 2:1-12)
- A previously disgraced, single mom gives birth to a baby, and lays him in a feeding trough. (Luke 2:7). It’s not written here, but I’m just guessing (and any mom who’s delivered can confirm) this birth was NOT “silent.” And since He was born alive, we can safely conclude, some “crying He makes.” No halo on record.
It turns out a King did come that day. But it wasn’t the arrival anyone expected.
Maybe it’s just years and years of staring at elegant nativity sets and beautifully illustrated picture books. Or my viewing of countless, adorable Christmas pageants. Or maybe it’s just something inside of me wants my expectations met. I want beautiful predictability, not this story. THIS story makes me uneasy. I’ll take the Hallmark version instead.
I was born into a “my” society. So were you, if you are alive right now, and are a card-carrying member of the American middle-class. This is NOT to say that life is easy. I’m just saying that by growing up here, you inherit a me-centric, consumer- driven mentality. It’s almost unavoidable.
Have you noticed that, here in America, we’ve made just about every calendar holiday about us? (Ok, maybe not Arbor Day, not yet.)
This is especially true of me at Christmas. Somewhere, among all of those Christmas’s past, I’ve managed to turn a celebration of the “Dawn of Redeeming Grace” into, well, my own birthday, because Christmas morning I still wake up wondering, “Where are my presents, my celebratory decorations, my delicious desserts?”
And even if my (poor husband) manages to nail it, and get exactly what my heart desires, I’m good for about an hour. Because almost everything about “my” is temporary. It is, at best, a bottomless pit that I unsuccessfully try to fill. And I can’t. No matter how I try, I fall short.
I’m learning that “expectations” are not the problem. It’s when I add the “my” in front (literally and figuratively).
But what if I inserted “Great” here, instead?
As in “His Greatness,” realizing that this definition defies almost anything my 21st century, western paradigm can imagine.
Great exchanged the glories of heaven to become the dust of earth. Great emptied Himself, so we could be filled. Great chose death on a cross to give us life. Great failed to meet human expectations, but instead redeemed humanity.
This is infinitely greater than my version of great.
Embracing this great means shedding all of my preconceived notions about what great really is. It’s trusting them instead to the Great One, because in all of His greatness, He still chose to come near.
Despite a deep desire to belong, Nikki Woo often finds life nudging her to the margins. She’s been the only girl on the team, the only public speaking teacher afraid of public speaking, the only Caucasian in the extended family photo, and the only mom who lets her kids drink Fanta. She calls the Rockies home, often pretending to be a Colorado native in spite of her flatland origins.