Christmas, Budgets, and the Blessing of Readjusted Expectations

Advent, the four week season of the church leading up to Christmas Day, begins this coming Sunday. The purpose of Advent is to reflect on and prepare for our celebration of the birth of Jesus, the promised Messiah. Christians all around the world re-read both Old Testament prophecies pointing to the coming of Christ and the infancy narratives of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Advent is a season of promise. It is a season of expectation–of anticipating the action of God entering our world to bring healing and hope to the outcast, the hurting, and the forgotten.

Of course, the season of Christmas is one of expectation and anticipation in other ways too.

I take it as a given that for many activities ramp up over the weeks leading to Christmas. There is much to do: shopping, planning, baking, and decorating. There are Christmas parties and concerts to organize and attend. There’s the joy of being with those we love and the dread of getting together with family members who do not always get along.

Yes, much to anticipate. But not always with excitement or joy.

And right now, many are experiencing the additional pressure of financial constraint. Prices on many goods and services have gone up even though most household incomes have not. People are finding that they’re having to squeeze more out of their budgets with less. No doubt for some, the expectations of having plenty of presents under the Christmas tree will have to be adjusted. Maybe we can’t buy gifts for all of the people we normally do.

My family and I made the decision this year to draw names for gifts. Rather than each of us trying to buy a gift for everyone else, each of us will have so much to spend on one other person in our family. And we don’t know who drew our name! We also decided to engage in another kind of “Secret Santa.” We also each picked the name of someone else in our family to bless anonymously over Advent with little deeds of kindness or acts of blessing. We’ll see how it works out.

So we won’t have as many presents under our tree. Our “wish lists” will need editing. But readjusting our expectations means anticipating other things joyfully. We will have to ask: what can I do to bless this person in my family? What one gift will bring this person joy?

As a parent, I was worried at first what my kids would think when my wife and I first suggested all this. I was worried they would be disappointed that they’re not getting as much. Turns out, they’re excited. Turns out, they really like the idea.

It reminds me that Christmas (to say nothing of life) doesn’t always have to match whatever, often unrealistic, expectations we have. Not only that, maybe adjusting our expectations can give us a renewed sense of anticipation and joy.

Isn’t that, in part, what Advent and Christmas are about?

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