I have a friend who likes Thursdays more than Fridays. He also is a bigger fan of Christmas Eve than he is Christmas Day. Kinda weird, right? But his reasoning is that the anticipation of good things is usually better than the realization of that goodness. But it actually makes strange sense when you think about it.
I remember more than one birthday or Christmas morning when I’d get this lingering sense of depression when I realized that all of the excitement of waiting was over. While my cousins and friends tended to be package rippers, I drew it out as long as possible, hoping in a way that the good feelings would go on indefinitely.
In a recent article I wrote about the idea that the “have” in most cases doesn’t end up being as good as the “want.” Like the dad in the movie, “A Christmas Story,” we can imagine pretty much anything is possible while the box is still unopened. Never mind that the package is the size of a piece of carry-on luggage; there could be a bowling alley in there!
Such was the case for many anticipating what became the first Christmas. Prophets, Rabbis and the like had been heralding a great champion in the Messiah who would sweep in and crush the mighty Roman occupiers, placing the Jewish people in their rightful place as the victors.
After all, they had waited for centuries for a promise to be fulfilled. They had undergone much suffering, all the while holding steadfast to their faith. In many ways it was the very promise that carried them through so much hardship.
What a letdown to find out that the anointed child of God was a simple, vulnerable peasant, rather than a gilded warrior, intent on human notions of justice.
But isn’t that the way of the Christian faith? We can hardly get through a page of the Gospel of Luke in particular without coming across another case of the tables of expectation being turned on end.
Pharisees ask Jesus what the greatest commandment is and he leaves their heads spinning. We pray for a warrior savior, yet our salvation comes in a most unexpected package. The Roman Empire set out to eradicate the troublesome Christian movement once and for all by removing its head; what they got was something entirely different.
Our faith is one of remarkable subversion; thank God for that. After all, if the system itself – if our very lives – were set right on their own we would have had no need for the radical reorientation that began with Christ’s birth.
And so we wait. We conspire with the subversive spirit of God who slipped in beneath the view of power to infuse the world with new vision. We hold in tension the “already” and the “not yet” paradox of God’s love, fully realized, but to which we continue to awaken from the slumber of human expectation.
For me, this awakening into an unexpected reality is the true meaning of Christmas.
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. Visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter.
Also writing today for the 12 blogs of Christmas, Dianna Anderson: Helping Women: 12 Blogs of Christmas