Dec 202013 2 Responses

When Christmas Goes Wrong

Do you remember the time in which you felt the greatest sense of disappointment?


a promotion was certain, but then you got passed over.
a relationship was promising, but then it inexplicably ended.
an opportunity came out of nowhere, but it ended just as fast.

Disappointment—it’s one of the most universal emotions of humanity. While I have never expected a large Christmas bonus and instead received a jelly of the month certificate, I know almost exactly what Clark Griswold felt because I have been disappointed.

Disappointment comes from an old French word which meant “being removed from office.” It brings to mind the image of impeachment where someone goes from having all the privileges and respect of high office to a moment later having no authority whatsoever. (See: A Map for Navigating Life’s Disappointments)

Disappointment is the result of our expectations not being met.

It’s on the face of:

losing football players so close to a championship only to lose in the last seconds.
stock brokers having made millions only to watch their stocks plummet before they can sell.
small children excited to see their parents come home from work only to be heartbroken as the parent rushes out again.

Whenever we read the Christmas story, it is easy to miss the disappointment. Yet if we just pause for a moment, we can imagine it. Any little girl who has ever dreamed of a wedding understands Mary’s disappointment. Expectations are not a twenty-first century invention.

Little girls in Israel dreamed of wedding days much like little girls of today do—maybe even more. While they came earlier in those days, the events still had tremendous meaning. I assume it was all Mary and Joseph had ever dreamed of at the beginning. He was probably a well-respected young man, and she a deserving young lady. As they entered into the engagement process everything was on track.

But then the pregnancy came to light. As Mary’s belly grew so did the judgment from others. We don’t know much about their story but one thing we can guarantee–they never expected it to happen like this. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Reputations were shot. Rumors were rampant. Previously minor tasks, like running to get some water, became major shows of public disgrace.

The need to leave town for the census probably came as a reprieve. Consider it: hours of riding on a donkey were considered better than relaxing at home—that’s how much of a disappointment Mary and Joseph had become.

As if that wasn’t enough, now the baby would be born away from home. We can only imagine the young couple trying to make the best of it, but I can’t fathom what it was like when they found out there was no room for them in the inn.

This young girl, who had started out with so many dreams of being a beautiful bride and a loving mother, was now giving birth in a strange place with hardly anyone around. Can you feel the disappointment?

In all the Bible there may not be an easier story for us to understand than the story of Mary as she gave birth to Jesus, because we all know what it is like to have our expectations go unfulfilled.

The expectation of:

a nuclear family–but then Mom left, or Dad died.
a wonderful engagement–but the question was never popped.
college dreams–but the scholarship wasn’t offered.
the perfect outdoor wedding–but then the rain came.
a house full of kids–but then infertility was diagnosed.
a rising career–but then came the pink slip.
an exciting life–but then came the routine.
a great retirement–but then came the cancer.
a life of joy–but then came the sorrow.

We all know what it’s like. Disappointment is a universal emotion.

There is nothing wrong with having expectations or being disappointed when they go unfulfilled, yet within expectations there is a danger.

When expectations go unfulfilled they can become the focus of our attention. Expectations denied can color everything we see. The disappointment can prevent us from seeing the good. The heartbreak can taint every blessing. (See: Walk Slowly at Christmas)

If we aren’t careful, unmet expectations can prevent us from seeing God.

Yet the story of Mary is told with only a hint of disappointment. The Christmas season is known for joy not sorrow, celebration not heartbreak, happiness not bitterness.

Why? Why was Mary able to overlook all the dreams which were dashed? How did the first Christmas turn out to be such a positive story?

The answer is simple—they saw God. In spite of the disappointment, they understood God was at work.

Of course it would have been hard for them to miss God with the angel, the miraculous conception, the star, the wisemen, etc.

Yet an outsider looking at our lives could easily say the same. How could we miss God considering all the blessings, the long testimony of Scripture, the patient grace of God, and the people he has placed in our lives?

There is only one way to miss God—when we become so focused on not getting what we want that we can’t see what we have, we miss God. The New Testament writer says, “Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above.” This means everything in our lives which is good is a gift from God himself and a sign of his love for us. Yet how often do we not recognize the gift? How often do we overlook the gift giver?

What’s interesting about Mary’s story is that the source of every disappointment in the first Christmas story was God. He was the source of the disappointment and the source of the joy. Could it be that God allows us to experience disappointment in order to gain our attention for what He is doing? Could it be that without a little disappointment, we would never see God?

When Christmas goes wrong, we should look for everything that is right. The unmet expectations can draw our attention to everything God is doing.

2 Responses to When Christmas Goes Wrong
  1. […] But it wasn’t that good. It was great, but it wasn’t life-changing. I wouldn’t tra...
  2. […] Yet many hear the truth of the Gospel, and misunderstand it. Rather than standing in amazement at th...

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