Christmas has always been a time of anticipation and expectation for me. But what happens when anticipation and expectation are blindsided by reality?
When my son was three years old, he had one thing he wanted for Christmas. He wanted a talking Woody doll, like the one he had seen in the movie Toy Story. He talked over and over about how he and Woody were going to play together. He felt he needed a Woody because his name was like Andy’s, as his name was Andrew.
I searched and hunted all over for this toy, to no avail. Thirty years ago, internet shopping didn’t exist, I hunted from store to store. I couldn’t find it anywhere! It didn’t help that he made this announcement in mid-December. One day, I found a Woody doll at the store, but it was not a talking Woody. “What does a three-year-old know about toys?” I thought to myself as I purchased it. “He will never know the difference.”
We gave the toy to my husband’s great-aunt Gladys, as she and our Andrew were great buddies. We all anticipated the look of joy on his face when he opened the gift he wanted the most. With a three-year-old’s certainty that Santa Claus could do anything, our Andrew fully expected to get exactly what he asked for.
Christmas Day came. We arrived at Gladys’ house for the holiday meal and gift-giving. Andrew had been disappointed that Santa wasn’t able to bring him the Woody doll at home. Gladys was almost giddy with the anticipation that Andrew was going to be so thrilled at receiving it from her.
Everyone held their breath when Gladys presented Andrew with the gift. He eagerly tore the paper off the box and we waited for his squeal of glee. Imagine our shock when he stared at Woody in the box, then threw the box on the floor as his eyes filled with tears. “This is NOT the right Woody!” he cried. Yeah. That anticipation and expectation just got blindsided by reality. The reality was Andrew didn’t get what he expected. My husband and I were mortified at his reaction.
I looked over at Gladys, expecting her to be a little miffed that Andrew didn’t like his toy. Much to my surprise and amazement, Gladys laughed so hard I thought she might fall off her chair. “Why did she find that funny”, I wondered. I was embarrassed that my child would pitch such a tantrum in public. He knew he was supposed to say thank you for a gift! I glanced around at the roomful of relatives, expecting to see judgment on their faces. What a relief to see all of them giggling over his unexpected reaction. My husband and I shared a sigh.
I think back to that scene often. We have pictures of our scowling three-year-old, angry that he got the wrong toy. It is funny to look back on it, but most of what I remember is my embarrassment over his reaction. I had expectations of my child’s behavior and anticipation of his great joy in opening that particular gift. The reality didn’t match what I thought it should. I was desperate to bring my child the joy that he anticipated and expected.
This reminds me of another story full of desperation. Joseph and Mary hunted desperately to find an available place for Mary to give birth, but all they were able to find was an animal pen. They were anticipating and expecting the holy Son of God to be born imminently but were blindsided by the reality of the overcrowded conditions of the town and the judgment of the people they expected to help them. They wanted to find rest and were refused everywhere they tried. Who but God could have anticipated finding rest in such a place?
Christmas is full of anticipation and expectation. We purchase gifts, anticipating the joy on the recipients’ faces as they receive something they wanted. We eagerly expect to receive certain things we have hinted for. But what happens to us when anticipation and expectation are different from reality? We have a choice to make. Will we throw a tantrum or will we graciously choose to remember the gift-giver’s intent was to bring us joy?
I think God looks at us that way. He anticipated the joy His gift would bring us. He sent His only Son into the world to save us from our sins. This gift, so infinitely precious, was soundly rejected by the very people it was given to. The people who rejected it expected a different kind of Savior. The Christmas story, full of anticipation and expectation, was blindsided by reality. We have a choice today, with that same Christmas story. Will we accept His gift or reject it?
Luke 2:4-7 (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.