There's a Difference Between Expectancy and Expectation



I always had very mixed feelings about Christmas as a kid. My dad — not a religious guy — went all out for this holiday, in the typical secular ways. He bought so many presents that it would end up being hard to make our way through the dining room, where we put the tree. We’d spend at least two weekends in November hanging lights and other swag outside, and the house resonated with Bing Crosby, Dean Marin and John Denver, all wishing us merry Christmas, over and over again.

I came to hate decorating the house. All of that time spent on the roof could have been much better used playing with my friends and, of course, I never hung the lights correctly. I’d flop them along the wrong side of the roofline, only to be sent back to make it right. And suffice it to say that, although I love the Rat Pack singers in particular, hearing any carol more than 43 times in the course of three weeks can sour even the most ardent fans.

Then there was the matter of the gifts. As I said, the piles of boxes were fairly obscene, which actually proved an embarrassment if we had other family visiting for Christmas. I was not a fan of being the center of attention, and opening my remaining presents while jealous cousins looked on made me just want to get it over and done with.

Being Human in December

Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock

Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock

A predominant message of this holiday season seems to be both loud and clear: Our value as human beings is often dictated by our capacity to consume.

While the average North American consumes approximately twice as much as 50 years ago, we are significantly less satisfied with the quality of our lives, which is — of course — contrary to the mass “this stuff will make you happy” messages we receive on countless occasions each day. Nevertheless, we continue to embrace a culture of consumerism, for we consume at staggering rates, not only in an attempt to make right our perceived wrongs, but also because we are led to believe that such devotion contributes to the wellbeing of society. As Victor Lebow states, “Our enormously productive economy ... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption ...  we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” According to the most vocalized narratives that affect contemporary life, to be a human of significant value in North America — especially during the month of December — is to be a committed and consistent consumer, even if it leads to our personal and public self-destruction.

What Are We Waiting For?


If all we do is sit and wait for God, we’re like people trapped in a perpetual Advent Bine/Shutterstock

Much of our imagery of Advent is tied into the idea of waiting. Waiting for Emmanuel to come. Waiting for God to intervene. We’re in the middle of the night waiting for dawn to arrive. We’re waiting for something different to happen. One image is the pregnant woman waiting to give birth, which ties into the nativity story.

We spend a lot of our lives waiting for various things. Maybe the question for Advent is: What are we waiting for? And when does the waiting end?

So much of our religion has become about waiting. Waiting for heaven. Waiting for God to respond to a prayer and to change something. Waiting for God to right the wrongs. Waiting for God to set things straight. Waiting and waiting and waiting.

What if we’ve got it backward? What if someone is waiting for us?

Advent: Fasting for the Reign of God

Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

The gospel according to Luke chapter one. Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

There is an awesome moment in the opening chapter of the book of Luke where the writer frames his gospel as an epic celestial battle taking place in the heavenly realm: This is the story of the reign of men vs. the reign of God.

Luke makes it clear. What happened in these pages began in the days of King Herod of Judea (Luke 1:5). King Herod was a product and protector of empire. His father was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar. He subsequently appointed Herod military prefect of Galilee. After the death of Julius, Antony, and Octavian, Augustus Caesar favored Herod and gave him the name "king of the Jews," eventually becoming governor of Judea.

Herod was most concerned with maintaining his power — at all costs. He built the Roman Empire at his own people's expense. He built great monuments and structures, including the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple, enslaving his own people to do it. He used the Jews' labor to erect temples to pagan deities, and, paranoid of anyone who might usurp his power, Herod schemed against his own family, executing three of his own sons for insurrection — one only a few days before his death.

Enter a priest named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth.

It's Started: The Christmas Onslaught

Monkik / Shutterstock

A Christmas card. Monkik / Shutterstock

It's started.

I was following the Twitter feed for the conversation between Nadia Bolz-Weber and Amy Butler at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. (#nadiaandamy) about the present realities and possible futures of Christianity in the United States, and it happened. I was happily dividing my cognitive attentions between Twitter and the television when it happened.

There was a Christmas ad.

Sarah Palin to Write Christmas Book

Sarah Palin, campaigning in 2008. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Sarah Palin is writing another book. This one focuses on putting faith and values back into Christmas.

The former GOP vice presidential candidate is writing, “A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas,” in which she will focus on Christian values and criticize the “over-commercialism” and “homogenization” that have come to define Christmas. The Associated Press says the book will come out in November.

Christmas Confrontation with a Homeless Jesus

Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics /

Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics /

When asked to identify common features of the historical Christmas storyline, many speak of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, angels, King Herod, and of course, the newborn Jesus. But we too often fail to recognize the social circumstances in which Jesus was born; our understanding of the nativity narrative is too often left incomplete.  

In the midst of our various congregational and community Christmas celebrations, we are confronted with the harsh reality that Jesus was brought into the world within a condition of homelessness. As a result, one can argue that we cannot fully commemorate Christmas without recognizing its social setting, for the context of Jesus’ birth points us toward the content and concerns of Jesus’ life.