This year, I spent each day helping my family countdown to Christmas using three different Advent calendars. One calendar told a part of Jesus' story each day through scripture, hymns, and stories. Our second calendar was all about Santa. Each window in the calendar opened to reveal Santa doing different things to get ready for Christmas Eve. Our last calendar was a bit different. Instead of opening a piece of the calendar to reveal Jesus' story, we instead added something to a nativity scene. Geese, cows, cattle, camels, angels, stars, and more needed to be placed on that nativity scene. And we could put those characters wherever we wanted. On some days, a cow ended up in the sky. Mary had to spend time on the roof. Joseph slept in a tree. This kind of calendar was a lot of fun because it invited my family and I to make God's story our own. And when we play with God's story, we discover how much that story makes a difference for us. 

An Advent calendar isn't the only way to countdown to Christmas. We can also cross names off our "to buy" list, put x's through all the holiday parties we attended, or count the moments we sat in silence as moments of sadness and mourning flow through us. Christmas can be a difficult holiday because we expect so much out of it. We expect joy, comfort, happiness, and snow. We struggle when Christmas doesn't match what we want it to be. Yet, as we will hear tonight, Christmas isn't a moment where God meets our expectations. Instead, God does something brand new. No one in Bethlehem expected God to show up in a barn behind the inn. Only Mary and Joseph knew what God was up to and even they were unaware of what Jesus' story was all about. The angels told the shepherds but the rest of the townsfolk, city dwellers, local farmers, and even the distant Roman Emperor were not even looking for God to show up, in the flesh, on that first Christmas night. All of us countdown to Christmas in different ways. We expect Christmas to show up and a "good" Christmas will match whatever our expectations will be. May this season invite all of us to discover the God who doesn't let our expectations be the limit to what God will do.