I suspect that you have probably been to a number of surprise parties for a friend or for a relative. There you are, you and a bunch of friends, all waiting for the victim – I mean – the party honoree, to walk through the door so that you can greet that person by shouting, “Surprise!” at the top of your voice. You are gathered there in the living room or family room. The lights are turned very low. Everyone is talking very quietly, but excitedly. Every now and then somebody says, “Shhhhh, I think she’s coming!” and the whole room becomes silent. The hushed tension of the excitement and expectation is so thick in the air, one can almost cut it with a knife. All hold their collective breaths until the door opens, the honoree enters, and is thoroughly overwhelmed. “Surprise!
That feeling of expectation and excitement is one of those delicious moments of life. There is nothing else quite like it. That is what the anticipation and expectation of this New Year is like.
Recently, I came across this story about a young child named David. Little David’s favorite character in the whole world was Superman. He had Superman pajamas and a Superman plate and cup. He had Superman action figures. And for his birthday, David received a Superman cape. David was ecstatic. He put on the cape and ran as fast as he could around the backyard. It was not too long afterward, however, that he returned to the house, out of breath, with the cape in his hand. In disgust, he threw it on the floor and said, “This thing doesn’t work.” David’s Superman cape did not live up to his expectations.
Unfortunately, sometimes reality does not live up to our expectations. Often reality is like hearing someone at that same surprise party, say, “Shhhhh, I think she’s coming!” and everyone becomes silent. Then the door opens and in walks – the wrong person! The effect is a dash of cold water in the face of our excitement and expectation.
I do not remember where I read this story, but I believe that it illustrates my point of being prepared to expect the unexpected. Listen. One year at Christmas, money was tight in the family. After all the bills were paid, there was not much left for the mother and her four children to use to spend on each other for Christmas. That year the mother took the children to the mall and gave each of them a twenty-dollar bill and told them that was all they had to spend on each other. The children did not seem to care. They all went off thinking of inexpensive and creative ways that they could spend their five dollars per person. Their mother gave them instructions to meet her back in an hour.
The hour went by quickly and soon everyone gathered again. They all were excited and they all hid their bags so that no one could see what they had bought. The youngest daughter’s bag was the smallest of all the rest. But the mother did not think too much about that until they all piled into the car and the youngest dropped her bag. The bag fell open and candy bars fell out. Mortified at what had happened, the youngest daughter blushed, hurriedly picked up the candy bars and shoved them back into her bag.
Her mother was furious. She knew her youngest daughter was a little irresponsible and had a sweet tooth, but for her to go and spend all the Christmas money on herself was inconceivable! Mother stewed about the incident the whole way home. The children all rushed into the house to wrap their presents. The mother followed her youngest daughter into her room, closed the door and started telling her how disappointed she was in her for spending all of her money on candy bars for herself.
The little girl started to cry, and then said, “But I didn’t. These aren’t for me. These are the presents I bought for you and the others.”
The mother then asked, “But what happened to the rest of the money?”
Then the little girl explained that she had been shopping and could not find anything that she liked for anyone else. While she was shopping in the mall, she saw a tree covered with angels. So she went to see what it was all about and found an angel with the name of a little girl on it who needed a pair of gloves, a coloring book and a box of crayons. She thought about all the possessions that she and her family had and decided to buy those gloves, that coloring book and that box of crayons for that little girl. When she was finished, all she had left was enough money to buy everyone in the family a candy bar. To paraphrase Art Linkletter here, “Kids do the darndest things!”
The mother learned a valuable lesson that day about assumptions and expectations. The mother had assumed certain things about her youngest daughter. She had expected a different explanation than the one she received and was not prepared for the one she heard. The explanation was unexpected.
So let us be filled with the excitement of expectation of the New Year. Let us prepare our homes and our families and more importantly, let us prepare ourselves.