Christmas is a season of great expectations. Expectations of family gatherings, cherished traditions, and maybe even a year-end bonus at work.
But not many of us have any real expectations for God to move in any truly fresh way in our lives or in our community. To change the heart of someone you love who doesn’t know Jesus. To give you true freedom from a stronghold. To allow you to experience the kind of purpose and meaning in your life that you know you were meant for but have never quite been able to fully discover.
The many struggles and difficulties of life have made our hearts cynical. We’re actually afraid to hope. Hope, as you’ve learned, hurts too much.
So while we say that we believe in the God of miracles, who we actually end up believing in is the God of marginal life improvement. So long as your bills are paid and your family is relatively healthy, how could you expect God to do anything more? Sometimes, even those requests seem too large.
Expectations on the First Christmas
The people living in the time just before Jesus came into the world could identify with our fear of ambitious hope. They grew up with the stories of their ancestors, stories of miracles and revivals. And they grew up on the promise that God’s anointed King would come and deliver them from captivity.
But they hadn’t heard God’s voice in 400 years.
As a result, many of them let go of hope. They would never say they did. But, to them, the age of miracles was over.
One of those people was a priest named Zechariah. As a priest, Zechariah would regularly travel from his home to the Temple in Jerusalem to serve. But there were only so many sacred jobs to perform. So, to be fair, they would randomly select who got to enter into the holy Temple to light the incense on the altar. And, today, the lot fell to Zechariah.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to enter into God’s most holy place, where it was believed that his presence dwelled, to perform the holy act of lighting the incense.
While Zechariah was there, he was met by no other than the angel Gabriel. And Gabriel came bearing great news. Zechariah and his wife, who were advanced in years and never able to have children, were about to conceive a child. And it wouldn’t be just any child. This child would be a great prophet who would usher in the age of the Messiah himself.
And do you know what Zechariah’s reaction was? The man of God standing in the holy place of God, receiving news of a miracle from God—everything he’d ever hoped for?
He didn’t believe it. He knew better than to hope.
As a result, Gabriel took away his ability to speak until the baby came, as judgment for his unbelief. Standing in God’s presence, Zechariah didn’t expect for God to even show up—let alone do anything meaningful.
But then there was Zechariah’s relative. A teenage girl named Mary who lived in a town that nobody had ever heard of. She was betrothed to a young man but was as yet unmarried.
Gabriel appeared to Mary in her home and gave her even more miraculous news. She, too, would conceive a miracle child, even though she was a virgin. And this child would be the long awaited Messiah, Savior of Israel and the world.
For many reasons, this good news might not have seemed very good to most teenage girls at the time.
In Mary’s culture, an unmarried teen becoming pregnant was even more socially stigmatizing than it is today. So much so that this news actually put her life in danger. And even if she were allowed to live, her fiancé would divorce her, she would have no social or financial support, and she would live in destitution. Living in a culture where women had very few rights and opportunities, Mary might have felt all the beautiful dreams she had for her life quickly amounting to nothing.
Obviously, God had other plans. But without even knowing what lay ahead, Mary did something incredible. She believed. She hoped. She expected the God of miracles to provide for everything she needed.
In this moment where her life changed forever and she knew struggles were ahead, her hope caused her to say to Gabriel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The theologically educated priest who had years of ministry experience was too cynical to hope—even when he was told all his dreams would come true. But the young, vulnerable teenage girl didn’t doubt for a second—even when her life was thrown into a cloud of uncertainty. She was expecting God to move.
And move he did. Nine months later, Mary gave birth to a baby named Jesus. God himself came into her womb and changed the course of human history forever.
What Are You Expecting This Christmas?
So may I ask you, what are you expecting this Christmas season? And how will your faith and actions align with those expectations?
Maybe you used to hope, but now you know better. Or at least you think you do. I invite you to ask God to give you a fresh sense of hope this season, to reawaken in your heart an expectation of what really is possible with God.
While God doesn’t always move according to our timetables or specific predictions, we can expect that he will do amazing things in the future, just as he has in the past. And that’s because hope is more than merely an idea or feeling. Hope is a person, and his name is Jesus.
A version of this article originally appeared here.