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Lower your expectations?

To encourage students to reflect on the sense of expectation that is at the heart of Christmas.

by Paul Hess

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to reflect on the sense of expectation that is at the heart of Christmas.

Preparation and materials

  • Images and songs that emphasize the joy and expectation associated with Christmas would enhance the assembly.
  • The Bible reading is Isaiah 11.1–9 (‘Time for reflection’).


  1. Do you remember, a few years ago, when you were small, just how excited you would get before Christmas? You still believed in Father Christmas and you could barely sleep on Christmas Eve. The whole festive season was just magical.

    Do you still feel the same way? I certainly hope so, but it is true that as we get older Christmas may start to lose some of its sparkle. Indeed, for some adults Christmas becomes a time of increased sadness because they become more aware of family tensions, loneliness or bereavement.
  2. Some psychologists say that at Christmas we experience ‘Broken Promise Syndrome’, that is, Christmas promises so much – merriment and love around a log fire – but actually only delivers bad presents, tired old carols and family feuds.
  3. One way of avoiding that flat feeling of anticlimax might be to lower our expectations. If we don’t expect much from Christmas, we won’t get disappointed. This, after all, is the approach taken by fans of West Ham United (insert your own team here): don’t get your hopes up, and who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

    Indeed, to ‘lower your expectations’ might seem to be an eminently sensible approach not only to Christmas but to all of life – a kind of emotional and philosophical insurance policy against life’s disappointments and pain.

    After all, if we look at some of the things in the world around us – war, famine, terrorism, for instance – there doesn’t seem much room for optimism. And sometimes when we look at our own lives – our failures and disappointments – we are equally disheartened. Maybe it would be better to lower our expectations.
  4. Yet would we like to make ‘lower your expectations’ a motto for our lives?

    Rather than suggesting that we lower our expectations, Christians recognize that high expectation is at the very heart of Christmas. In the case of Mary, the expectation was of course literal.

    The words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah are full of hope: ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given . . . of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end’ (Isaiah 9.6, 7, AV).

    So are the words of the angelic host to the shepherds: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace’ (Luke 2.14, AV).

    Yes, as we look at the world this Christmas we do see many situations filled with violence and despair. But the point of Christmas is that God enters into that world and so transforms it by filling our hearts with hope, the hope of what might be for our world, the hope of what might be for our lives.
  5. This Christmas let us rediscover the hope and joy we see in little children. This Christmas, may our hearts be filled with hopeful expectation.

Time for reflection

Read Isaiah 11.1–9

The words of the prophet Isaiah are filled with hope: the Messiah, the person sent from God, will usher in a new age of peace:


Let us keep a moment of silence as we reflect on the words of a man who spoke so powerfully of hope and expectation in the face of adversity, Martin Luther King: We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.’  




Sing one of your favourite carols.

Publication date: December 2011   (Vol.13 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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