As December dawns, so does the Christmas season, and Christians all over the world have begun celebrating Advent - a season of humble expectation and sacred hope as we look toward that glorious morn' when our Savior came to dwell among us.
In the spirit of this season, then, I wanted us to take the next few weeks to immerse ourselves in the Christmas story, in the faces and places of the birth of Christ as we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas and maybe, just maybe, not to get so lost in the hustle and bustle. (It's far too easy to do.)
And this starts, as it must, with anticipation.
Anticipation is something very different than expectation, although we might hear the words used interchangeably. Expectation is an attitude that knows that something is coming and just waits for it to happen, plans for it, plans on it. I expect that my utility bills will arrive in the mail every month, on or about the same day. I make notes in my financial ledger to account for them. I double-check my bank account to make sure I'm prepared.
But that's about it. I don't have any anticipation for them. I do not run excitedly out to my mailbox every day to see if they've come yet. I do not take celebratory pictures and post them on social media when they get here. I do not spend my nights lying awake, thinking about what they're going to be like when they get here. I might, in a dry season, dread my utility bills, but I would still expect them. I would never, in a prosperous season, anticipate them, but I would still expect them.
See, anticipation requires two things that expectation does not: emotion and movement.
Anticipation requires some measure of emotion, some investment of thought- and heart-energies into what's coming. When you anticipate something, you get excited about it. You get pumped. You're energized. You are eager. You can't wait. It dominates your thoughts and your heart and your experience of the world. You hold your breath waiting for it, and it's all you can do to keep yourself calmed down, reined in. It's almost impossible to go on with your regular life because the perceived amazingness that is coming is so all-consuming. It's the difference between being a kid who has to wake up on April 12 and go to school and being a kid who gets to wake up on Christmas morning. Expectation vs. anticipation. Anticipation is laden with emotion.
It's also inspiring of movement, of action. Yes, you may plan for your bills to arrive and account for them, but that's not the kind of action we're talking about. We're talking about action that moves in a dance with the object of its anticipation. Think of boxers in the ring or players at a chess board - the anticipation of what an opponent might do changes the way that the boxer or the player makes his own move. It's a give-and-take, a planning for the motion of the other.
In anticipation, you believe that movement is afoot. You believe that something is happening. It's not static; it's dynamic, and it requires your participation.
It's this kind of anticipation that we're talking about this week. It's this kind of emotional, active belief that something incredible is coming that is the focus of this first week of Advent (not the official calendar, but the way I'm doing it in this space). Because it's far too easy for us to look at our calendars and say, "Christmas is coming," and then...and then what? Many of us just expect that it will, as it does every year.
But what if we lived in anticipation of Christmas? What would that look like? What would happen if we let this season take hold of our hearts and our minds, change the way we live and love, force us into a dance with the coming Christ? What if...?