Great Expectations

This Sunday, I will not be telling you a story, as I have the past couple of weeks. No, it is not because the last one was too long—as was pointed out by one of our cute kiddos last Sunday! Rather, it is because this Sunday, the kiddos will be doing the story telling. This should really be a wonderful treat for us all.


You know what the best thing is about Children’s Christmas Pageants? The mistakes! No really! Be honest with yourself. We don’t want a perfect retelling of the Christmas story. We want a REAL retelling of the story. We want a MESSY retelling of the Christmas story. We want to see the kids shine in all their messy glory because deep down, we know that this is a messy story. It is the story of an unwed teenage mother, and the man that wasn’t scared off. It is the story of the worst timed road trip in history (pregnant, about to deliver, and on a donkey—let’s all thank our lucky stars that we didn’t have to go through that!). It is the story of the last and the least gathering around in what another blogger aptly described as the “Barn animals’ outhouse.”


Perhaps this messiness is why a few years ago we embraced the messy Christmas pageant idea. Rather than having perfectly ironed angel’s robes, and perfectly behaved sheep, we allowed the kids to make their choice about how they wanted to gather round the manger scene. Sometimes that was as shepherds and Magi, sometimes that was as lobsters and parrots. The point was not historical accuracy (given that the gospels conflict on their telling of the story, historical accuracy simply is not possible!). The point instead, was to tell the story in all its messy glory!


I think that this is an incredibly important message this time of year. Embrace the Messiness! Too often, we have images in our heads about what the holidays are supposed to look like. Rarely, if ever, do the holidays look anything like that Norman Rockwell painting dancing through our dreams. In fact, I would argue that the holidays are far less meaningful if they do look anything like our own picture. There is grace in the Messiness!


I am reminded of a Christmas about 10 years ago. Tiff and I were so excited because for Christmas, we would be leaving the snow swept city scape of Chicago for the beaches of Hawaii for Christmas! We are blessed that Tiff has an Uncle that lives in Hilo, and we were planning the perfect Hawaiian Christmas getaway (incidentally, that was one of the worst Chicago winters in the last 20 years or so). The day had finally come for our escape from the blizzards. Of course, the Chicago weather had to get in one last swipe at us. We sat in Midway airport, watching the blowing snow pound the city. The delays in our flight started to mount. First ten minutes. Then thirty minutes. Then an hour. Our worries were mounting that we would not get out. Suddenly, there was a break in the snow, they piled us on the plane, and we were off to Oakland, of all places, to catch our flight to Honolulu. The delays had mounted to such an extent, that when we hit the ground in Oakland, we had to race through the terminals, hoping to make the flight. We rounded a corner and saw our gate just in time to watch them seal the door amidst our screams of, “WAIT!” It didn’t matter. We sat and argued with the attendant as we watched the plane start its engines and pull back from the gate.


We finally set up a later flight, and knew we would at least get in to Honolulu later that night. Of course, there would be no flights from Honolulu to Hilo until morning, but we figured at least we would be in Hawaii that night. Well…if you know anything about the Honolulu airport, you would know that was probably the worst thing that could have happened at that point. You see, the Honolulu airport is open air—it is a tropical island after all, why wouldn’t you want to have it open air? Well, because it is open air, you can’t have any cushions in the airport because they would rot with the humidity. In fact, every sitting service is made of blocks of stone. It is probably the very last airport that you would want to have to sleep in while you wait on the first flight in the morning. What a miserable night!


The rest of the trip had its share of problems as well. As a pastor, you can be guaranteed that you will come down with a cold within 24 hours of your final holiday worship service, and that year didn’t disappoint. That cold was a doozy! Since one of our big plans was to spend time Scuba diving, most of my plans went out the window because you can’t dive with a cold. On top of that, we didn’t realize that December is the middle of the rainy season in Hilo, and so we didn’t see the sun the entire time we were on the island.


Let’s just say, that Christmas did not live up to expectations. In fact, it was one of our messier Christmases ever. However, it is also one of the most memorable. We had so much fun, even in the rain. We snorkeled and saw sea turtles, we climbed through lava tubes, we had some of the best Christmas BBQ ribs ever—with Mangoes on the side. It looked nothing like what our image of the holiday was supposed to look like. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the best holidays are the ones that don’t go according to plan.


So as your expectations for the holiday season mount, let your thirst for adventure mount with them. Just like that children’s Christmas play, you never know what is going to happen, and what is going to come out of the mouths of those around you. Be ready to enjoy it, whatever it is. Just like that story of Mary and Joseph so long ago, when things don’t go according to plan, roll with it and see where it takes you. After all, Mary and Joseph ended up bringing the new light of God’s love into the world with their messy story. What will your messy story bring?

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