The Unexpected Gift

Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2013
(well, the proposed sermon… who knows what will happen between then and now!?)

There are some who believe that to live happier you need to lower your expectations. You’re not going to be a perfect… go ahead, fill in the blank:

Lower your expectations of yourself and you’ll be happy!

It helps to lower your expectations of others too, right?
If your expectations are lower… it’s so much easier.

We’ve lowered our expectations in terms of entertainment.
(At least, that’s how I’d explain reality television)
Some of us try to lower our expectation of the holiday
(knowing it will never be like it was).
We’ve lowered our expectations of that new job
or that vacation
or that new fitness program
or what is waiting for you under the tree…

as Mary Carver, the author of Giving Up Fairy Tales writes:
“Let’s not waste our lives searching for perfection tied up with a fairy tale bow. Let’s choose, right now, to grab hold of our real lives, our true selves and embrace every second of this challenging, gritty, beautiful, messy reality that we have instead.”

Lower those expectations, folks. Grapple on to what is real and now and imperfect and give thanks for the mess and the chaos.

Honestly… and I’m not being sarcastic or snarky here… it does help to not expect life-changing things to occur at every new bend in the road…


as solid as that psychological advice may be for some of us
it’s lousy theological advice for all of us.

Here’s the thing.
We have lowered our expectations in terms of what this night means.
We have lowered our expectations in part because we don’t want to be disappointed
when peace doesn’t occur
and our child isn’t healed
and our bank account isn’t full because we really DO believe.

and so we lower our expectations of this Messiah
this world-changer
and we take the baby and put him in a manger
and in twelve days or so, we’ll take him out of the manger and put him in a box
and back on a shelf
until we think about Him at Easter time
along with peeps and chocolate rabbits.

And we miss the whole point of what God has done here.

Underneath your tree tonight is an unexpected gift.
If you unwrap your heart
you’ll find someone who will change this world in unexpected ways
but NOT if you look at it and decide to return it for something that’s a bit more flattering
or not as constrictive

This unexpected gift turns the world on its head
revolutionizing what we value
and what we hold dear

No wonder we try to put Jesus back in the box.
He’s so much safer there.

There’s been a big hullabaloo this year about how we’ve taken the Christ out of Christmas. That happened years before we started saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. It happened when we really forgot what was happening here… on this night

when a child was born, not in a castle but in a stable
a child who would grow up to teach about how we needed to love one another
and love God
a child who would become a man that ate with sinners, hung out with prostitutes
a child who became an unexpected revolutionary – not against Rome (that was what the Messiah was expected to do) but against the religious authorities
a child who became a man who was crucified for all of the above
and who asked those who followed to be have the courage and strength and willingness
to follow in his steps
and bear our own crosses
and give selflessly

and THIS is why we put baby Jesus back in the box
because no one in their right minds would unwrap that gift if they knew what it held
no one in their right minds…

only those in their right hearts.

Part of the problem is our history. Unlike the shepherds in Luke’s Gospel who were assaulted by a band of angels and an image of glory incarnate… this is old news for many of us.

We’ve heard this story before.

And even if we can capture just for a moment that feeling of wonder and awe
of God-With-Us
it quickly fades.
I think sometimes we’re almost afraid to feel that wonder and awe again because it might give us hope…. and when we hope, we have great expectations. And when we raise our expectations, we may risk losing all hope when, once again, the world is unchanged.

It’s a risk.
I know.
It’s a risk for me too… to believe again that something that we celebrate this night actually mean something.
It’s a risk because it’s not just the baby born in Bethlehem, but the Son of Man who then calls us to be a part of that world-changing revolution.
It’s a huge risk.

But it is a risk work taking. And we don’t take this risk alone… but together.
So, let us raise our expectations of this night and what it means
let us raise our expectation that change can happen
peace is possible
healing can occur
We need to raise our expectations that this baby born in Bethlehem really meant something
really means something.
Something for our world…
something for our families and neighborhoods

Something for us. An unexpected gift. Amen.


Karen, dear Karen. PERFECT!
I have pulled a big section from this for my January newsletter with proper thanks to you. It was so clear and po werful. THanks. And Christmas blessings to all of yours from all of mine!

Karen, this is wonderful. Sharing with many folks. Now I don’t feel as guilty for skipping church tonight!!! Merry Christmas!!!

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