Mary Magdalene freaks me out. Her underlying, desperate neediness with Jesus can be unnerving. When I read her stories I picture a pasty, scrawny seventh-grader pathetically eager to join the kickball game at recess. Sweaty glasses sliding toward the end of her nose as she shrieks out, “Pick me! Oh, oh, pick me!” She gallops meekly over to the cool kids, just knowing that this is her time. The other kids are annoyed and stare at the anthill that has formed at the pitcher’s mound. Everyone is hoping she will do an about-face and saunter inside to play checkers instead.
Everyone except Jesus.
Mary is constantly spilling over the edges of appropriate affection. After Jesus graciously pulled seven demons from her soul, she never seems to recover. Her freedom binds her into a lifelong allegiance to Jesus. She was wrecked. Her affections for her friends, her family, and her culture would never fill her heart to the same completion as Jesus did. Mary was not only healed by Jesus, she was known by Jesus.
In my head, I grasp that being known by Jesus is enough, but in my life I live like He is almost enough. While residing in China, 7,000 miles from friends and family in America, I feel this most tangibly at Christmas time. I find I have neediness of my own. My affections are drawn to spicy pumpkin pies, Starbucks gingerbread lattes, twinkly Christmas lights, and hugs from parents. I will not be getting any of these. And quite honestly, I find myself getting even more frustrated with the cultural nuances here when I compare my circumstances with what I could be doing if I were in America for the holidays. My kids see Christmas as a time of sharing baby Jesus with non-believing friends, bringing cookies to our neighbors, and praying for the nations. Still, I find that this is not enough. Why? It is because I have wrapped up my Christmas affections with American paper that looks disturbingly self-centered. Most of my thoughts are about what I am not getting to do, as opposed to what the Lord is giving me to do. My expectations for Christmas involve loving my neighbor…and indulging myself.
I want Jesus and…what else?
It seems to me that, for Mary Magdalene, Jesus was quite simply enough. He was enough to sooth the scars left by demons and the whispers from neighbors. He was enough to follow to the cross, where she felt His forgiveness drip down over her once again. He was enough to run barefoot to the tomb and expect Him to be there waiting with open arms. Of all the holidays printed on our calendars, Christmas should be the one that opens our lives up to neediness. As we walk through streets lined with customers shackled in cultural idolatry, our hearts should grow faint. Like Mary, we should fall at the feet of Jesus, longing for freedom. We should weep at the consistent brokenness we see visibly while living overseas. Greed, consumerism, and traditionalism oppress our lives like the demons oppressed Mary. If we would pull our heads out of the self-indulgent sand, then we would quickly open our doors in expectant joy as we invite needy neighbors into our Christmas celebrations.
This season, I do not want Jesus and…something else. I want my expectations to be Him alone. I want others to anticipate His arrival on this earth as a colossal mash-up of the cosmic with the earthly.
What kind of misplaced expectations are you harboring this year?
Do not get tangled in what we are not getting to do or whom we will not get to be with this season. Let’s drape our affections over Jesus. He is enough.
Question to consider: What kind of misplaced expectations are you harboring this year?