The Real Reason We Are Filled With Anticipation at Christmas

14 December 2021

4.2 MINS

Christmas is a season of anticipation. There is a reason you feel that way – and it is bigger than Santa, carols, good food and celebration. It’s even bigger than the birth of a baby in a manger! Why does Christmas fill us with so much anticipation?

For as long as I can remember, Christmas has been my favourite time of the year. I have long associated it with family celebration, gift-giving, good food, the end of the school year and the beginning of South Australia’s hot, dry summers.

Now, many years on, the sense of anticipation I experience before Christmas remains — even if the specific things I anticipate are different to what they used to be.

So intense are my feelings of Christmas anticipation, even as an adult, that I have noticed a pattern emerge over recent years: Christmas never quite lives up to the hope and expectation I invest in it. Perhaps you feel the same.

This isn’t to say that Christmas is ever disappointing. I enjoy it every year — whether the times of worship with carols and nativity plays, picking cherries and making gingerbread with the family, or the ham, prawns, salads and cheerful chatter at Christmas Day lunch.

But every year, as soon as it has begun, Christmas is gone again! It ends so suddenly, and that childhood thought returns: “I have to wait another whole year!?”

Pondering all this in recent weeks, I had a revelation.

Yes, part of the reason Christmas doesn’t live up to its hype is because I still — unashamedly — hold on to my childlike wonder of Christmas.

But the main reason Christmas comes and goes and my heart still yearns is because my heart isn’t just yearning for Christmas. Deep down, I want something more. We all do.

To find out what that something is, join me on a quick journey through my maturing understanding of Christmas.

Santa is Coming

Having grown up in the staunchly German-Lutheran Adelaide Hills, we knew Santa as ‘Father Christmas’ — and he came on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day.

Dad would rush my sisters and me out to the car, ready for the Christmas Eve service. For some reason, every year, Mum would take an extraordinarily long time finishing her make-up while we waited. But our suspicions were never alerted. We couldn’t wait to get to church, knowing that by the time we returned, Father Christmas would have paid us — even us! — a visit.

It is hard to put in words the emotions we felt running into the lounge room after church. Our present sacks, previously laid flat in a neat row along the floor, had become magically three-dimensional. The carpet was covered in shredded paper within minutes, and we played happily, enjoying sweet desserts until bedtime.

Christmas is Coming

Learning of Mum and Dad’s Christmas antics was a blow, but it never got to me too much. The anticipation I had previously reserved for that one magic moment on Christmas Eve slowly broadened out to encompass all the joys of the season.

The smell of pine needles filling the house through December. Cheesy Christmas songs on rotation as we made our favourite slices. Rediscovering the Christmas tree decorations we forgot we had. Playing the role of shepherds, wise men and angels year after year in our church’s nativity play.

There was so much to love — and there still is. And having nephews now means I enjoy all of it afresh through their eyes.

Jesus is Coming

I came into a personal relationship with God as a teenager. The faith of my parents and the rituals of church life were not enough for me. I realised that either Jesus was real and therefore worthy of my whole life — or like that other childhood belief I had recently dispensed with, he was an enchanting myth who no longer deserved my attention.

Jesus got my attention. When I came to faith, it was both a revelation of the mind and a decision of the heart. And I have never seen Christmas the same way since.

Now I understand Christmas as the ultimate act of God’s humility, that moment he stepped down from the glory of heaven into a dirty manger to secure the salvation of all mankind. Christmas is God’s interruption into the bleakness and turmoil of world history — and his call to every heart to make room for the humble Saviour.

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see.

Let every heart prepare him room.

Come adore on bended knee.

For me, there is no greater season of worship than Christmas, and there are no worship songs that stir my heart like the great Christmas carols. At Advent, the gates of heavenly paradise swing open to me, and every silly little trinket and tradition becomes a signpost pointing to the world-changing baby born in Bethlehem.

Jesus is Coming Again

I know that when the Christmas season ends, I will be able to celebrate it again the following year. But I am also aware that my longings won’t quite be fulfilled even then. There is something inside of me — and I assume inside of you, too — that yearns for something more, something permanent.

God knows this, and he promises to fulfil that longing. Just as Jesus’ arrival as a baby was foretold by the prophets in past ages, so his second coming is predicted in great detail. That day will interrupt our lives like nothing we could ever have imagined.

On that day, “peace on earth” will no longer be limited or partial. The Prince of Peace will come and reign from his glorious throne. All rebellion and injustice will be put away. Every person will learn their eternal fate. Those who trusted the Saviour will have their hearts healed and will enjoy his perfect presence forever.

Are you ready for that day? It is what Christmas is all about. The reason that no Christmas ever quite delivers on the hope and expectation we place on it is because Christmas points us to something beyond itself.

Christmas is our yearly reminder that we may not have another year: that one day soon, our lives will come to an abrupt halt, every outstanding ledger will be settled, and we will meet God face-to-face. As C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

This is the reason for your anticipation. So as you prepare for Christmas, don’t neglect the most essential preparation of all. Make room in your heart for the King.

Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Image by Nicole Michalou on Pexels.

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  1. Anne Gilchrist 14 December 2021 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Great article Kurt, that about sums up the “feeling of Christmas”. I also think it is a special grace from God that we all feel happy and at peace this time of year.

  2. Bev Pattenden 14 December 2021 at 9:48 am - Reply

    I am happy for you that you have such good memories of Christmas, but it is not so for many. My memories as a young child are good, where we only got one present each, which was enough in the old days. However, when I grew up and moved into my new house, penniless and struggling to put food on the table, Christmas became stressful to the point where I was crying a week before Christmas, not having enough time or money to prepare for this. I decided to stop with all the presents and cards and phoned my family to say “I am not buying for anyone else, just my children, it is just all too much”. They all decided that it was a good idea, because everyone was stressed, especially trying to buy presents for boys between 7 and 17. I feel really troubled that children are so spoilt with material goods now and poor grandma can’t find anything to buy that they don’t already have.
    I guess things might change somewhat now, after all the lock downs and so much time to think for all of us. I hope so.

  3. Cheryl Harrold 16 December 2021 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    I really appreciate your sharing your story Kurt. I think it sums up how many of us feel after the day is over.
    I have always loved the preparation rather than the actual day, because as a small child it was the biggest event of the year for me! But the after mart was not so great, because inside of me I had a yearning that hadn’t been fulfilled. Now it is very different because I have the Spirit of the Lord living within, not just present on a Christmas Day. This present is everlasting, and money could never buy it, but I have a very good reason to celebrate the coming of that great gift to the world!

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