Anticipation and Reality: a Christmas Reversal

by Hilary Horn

By Jeannie Kendall

Anticipation is a curious thing: and perhaps especially at Christmas. As a child, my favourite part of Christmas was Christmas Eve. I loved the colours of the presents under the tree, and the mystery of which were for who and what they might contain within. If I am ruthlessly honest about those far off days though, often the expectation outshone the reality and I enjoyed the thought of what might be rather than what actually was. My parents made us open presents one at a time each day, eking them out until well past New Year. I never minded, because it lengthened that season of hope of what I might discover hiding under the gaudy exterior.

Sometimes life is like that, with the anticipation superior to the actuality. The holiday which we eagerly await but weather or venue disappoint us. The job we hoped would stretch and develop us which turns out to be monotonously mundane. The friendship for which we hoped more but proved ultimately superficial.

There are many different ways we can respond. We can stop hoping, allowing spider threads of disillusionment to wrap themselves around our soul. Or we can continue to yearn for that moment which will surprise us by finally meeting our unspoken dreams, becoming weary by the waiting. As the Bible puts it, “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick” (Proverbs 13:12 The Message)

Christmas, it seems to me, is the opposite. At the time of Jesus’ birth, after a 400 year silence from God, surely anticipation had either ceased altogether or become a distant promise retained only by the pious few. And those who hung on had only nationalistic expectations: a warrior Messiah who would crush the Roman oppressors and release the browbeaten Israelites.

Yet the actuality was so much greater. A rescuer not just for the Jews and that limited time, but for every nation and all history and bringing ultimate transformation for the cosmos. Love personified, humanity dignified and restored.

So as Christmas Eve melts into Christmas day, whatever the day itself holds, know that, to quote the next half of that verse from Proverbs, “when desire is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.”. An apt phrase, as, decades later, that tree of death would give us access to full, technicolour life.

For once, as we remember again the Word becoming flesh, the reality far exceeds every expectation.

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