Both of them were upright in the sight of God . . . but they had no children (Luke 1:6-7).
Christmas Eve just isn’t Christmas Eve without a candlelight service. Or so it seemed to me.
That’s why I was determined to create a new tradition in the church that I served years ago before coming back to Atlanta. They had never done a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Fortunately my congregation was patient with me. They seemed willing to give it a try.
The Icy Rain
One need not be a genius to plan a candlelight service. The hymns for Christmas Eve are fairly obvious, so crafting the order of service was not hard. Candles were purchased. The bulletin was printed and folded. Everything was ready.
And then around mid-morning on that highly anticipated Christmas Eve an icy rain began to fall in our part of eastern North Carolina. The trees took on a glassy sheen, and that was pretty. But the same thing was happening to our roads, and that was dangerous. All over Raleigh churches were cancelling their Christmas Eve services. The list grew long and ran across the bottom of my TV screen.
I resisted doing the same, holding out for yet another miracle on that most sacred of nights. The miracle I wanted was not to be. That first Christmas Eve candlelight service was cancelled.
We stayed home that night. I sat in my house and stewed. To be perfectly honest, it took some work to get over my anger, my sullen indignation that the creator of the universe had the audacity to ignore my will. My expectations had not been met. And those shattered expectations had me ripped up inside.
Few things are more crushing than the weight of your expectations. The longer you carry them, the heavier they become, and those expectations can be especially burdensome during this season of the year.
Expectatrions v. Expectancy
Pastor and Author Mark Buchanan has observed a helpful distinction between having expectations and being expectant. Expectations can subtly become demands. We have an idea of how things ought to go, how people ought to be, how plans should unfold. These expectations are expressions of desire, and when our desires are thwarted we feel robbed.
But being expectant is more like a posture toward your life. Expectancy is an eagerness and openness to whatever may be. It is not expressed as a specific desire, but rather as a sense of excitement and anticipation.
Advent is a season that thrives on expectancy. And it as just as easily ruined by the weight of our expectations.
The pain of disappointment is what we feel in the gap between life as we’d like it to be and life as we actually have it. And when that disappointment follows repeated prayers and pleading with God, God becomes the focus of our disappointment. We cease to be expectant. To quote the late theologian Elizabeth Achtemeier, “we still believe in God, we just don’t think God actually does anything.”
"Your Prayer Has Been Heard"
We might wonder if that’s what had happened to Zechariah. He’s a faithful priest, obedient to God’s law. He carries out his religious duties. He is devout, but disappointed. And maybe in his disappointment he had stopped being expectant.
But God has a way of showing up in our disappointments. This is the good news of Advent.
Perhaps today your crisis of faith isn’t about disbelief in God, but disappointment with God. You have some expectations that have not been met – and possibly may never be. In this you’ve slowly lost any sense of expectancy. The angel’s word to Zechariah is our hope in this season. Our prayers are heard. God sees and knows. In fact the name Zechariah means “Yahweh remembers.”
What expectations might be sitting heavy on your soul today? What disappointments have dulled your sense of expectancy? Keep praying. And stay alert. God may be at work in those hard places, doing far more than you know.
By your grace, O God, grant that we would bring our desires honestly and boldly to you while holding our expectations loosely. And make us an expectant people, eager for what you are doing in us and around in these days of Advent, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.