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Will Your Christmas Expectations Be Met?

Or will they crush you?

by Natalie Abbott

"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." — Titus 3:4–5a

Christmas is the season for expectation.

The people of God wait each year with baited breath to peek again into that manger scene and celebrate Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Truly, this is the wondrous place where our hopes put on flesh and find their fulfillment. And yet, so often in this season, I’m not filled with the expectation of celebrating Christ, but instead I’m focused on fulfilling the expectations of others and myself. And those Christmas expectations crush me. 

I hustle and bustle, checking off endless lists. 
Will I get the right thing? Will I let them down? 
I plan and fret about the gatherings of my loved ones. 
Will there be enough of this or that? Will they enjoy themselves? 
I weigh myself down with traditions. 
We’ve always done it this way. Will everyone be disappointed if we don’t? Will I? 
In all of it, I work and strive to make everything perfect.
Will it be good enough for them? For me? 

This is my performance-based Christmas hamster wheel. And I really do find myself so often running in circles to meet these expectations (and more). But here’s the irony: living like this is actually anti-Christmas. When I strive under these expectations, I inevitably fail to do the thing I’m trying so hard to do: I don’t actually celebrate Christmas at all.  

Thankfully, I know a way off the Christmas hamster wheel. 

Years ago, I started realigning my Christmas expectations by focusing on Christ. To put it simply, I started putting Christ on my Christmas list. What do I mean by that? Well, he’s on my “to-do list” every day. Sure, I’ve got lots of things on that list this time of year, but I don’t neglect this one thing: Jesus. I spend time reading my Bible and regularly, throughout the day, I refocus on him by praying, singing Christmas hymns, and reciting Scripture. This is how I fight my Christmas-performance mindset, and I confess I often lose! But this year I have one more weapon in my arsenal: Titus 3:4-5a. These are the perfect words to speak over myself every time I need to refocus my expectations:

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” — Titus 3:4-5a

Do you hear that!? “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done…” That means there’s nothing we can do to earn our seat at the table. Instead, God did everything for us. And that is where we find freedom. 

This is the message we need on repeat in our heads this Christmas! 

So, as you say it to yourself, I want you to remember these three things about expectations:

1. We could never meet God’s expectations. 
We’ve just explored the crushing weight of our failure to live up to our own and others expectations in this short Christmas season. Well, the reality of every other season of our lives is much the same. In the passage leading up to Titus 3:4-5a, we see that our failure goes beyond our expectations and others, but we also fail to meet God’s expectations. I know. This is some really bad news. But if we’re being honest, we know it’s true. We’ll never be perfect. And all of this striving to earn our way or prove our worth is exhausting and impossible! But, this honest confession of our need is the first step to experiencing the solution for us. 

2. God met his expectations for us in Christ.
In the midst of our inability to meet God’s expectations, Jesus showed up to meet them for us! Not because we did good things to earn God’s favor, just the opposite! Jesus met the Father’s expectations for us because we could never do it ourselves. So Jesus did every righteous thing we could not on our behalf. Moreover, he exchanged his perfections for our failures and sin, paying the just penalty for them with his life. Jesus did all of this for everyone who comes to him with repentance and faith—making up the full amount of our lack with his abundant goodness. 

3. Our expectations in Christ are wildly excessive.
Jesus saved us from our sin! That should’ve been enough. What more could we ask for? But Jesus did exceedingly, abundantly more than that. He gave us a whole new right-now reality and great expectations for our life to come. Our passage in Titus goes on to tell us what we have in Christ. In him, we are filled with his Holy Spirit, who cleans us up and makes us presentable to God. He also renews and transforms our inner person, making us able to live in ways that are pleasing to God. Jesus has also made us God’s own children and the rightful heirs of every spiritual blessing right now and in the age to come. This is the excessive love and kindness of God our Savior expressed to us in Jesus and experienced by us through the Holy Spirit.

That is our true and best Christmas expectation.  

No earthly thing could ever measure up to the wonder of God’s love as it was embodied in that manger so many years ago. This is the good news of great joy for all people (Luke 2:10). And our minds and hearts can safely dwell in that wondrous place in the midst of the bustle of this season. 

Will you join me in trading in striving for rest—knowing that Jesus has met every expectation for us? He is our greatest gift.

Natalie Abbott

Natalie Abbott is the co-founder and chief content officer of Dwell Differently. She lives in Missouri with her husband and 5 kids.

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