Longing at Christmas


by Stu Selthun


As I rode my bike into work one morning a few weeks ago, I thought about our Advent study class the night before. I reflected on the discussion we had about longing and expectation at Christmastime, and thought about how that concept of longing and expectation ramp up this time of year, and often remains unmet or unsatisfied. It’s something I feel and can identify with, which led me to the notion of mimetic longing, the idea that we long according to the longing of the other.


As empathetic, mimetic human beings, we’re surrounded by increased longing and rising expectations in others and we seem bound to pick up on that, to tune into it, and to feel it ourselves, not always knowing why, let alone understanding how to satisfy this longing we feel, or what exactly it is that we’re expecting to happen. An effective way of understanding these feelings, and an approach that feels both potentially effective and particularly appropriate for Christians, would be to focus not on satisfying our own longings or working on our own expectations, but instead to put energy toward understanding what others long for at this time of year, or on what it is that they expect to happen.


My own Christmas longings may remain unsatisfied and my Christmas expectations unmet, but this may be the wrong way around to think it anyway. It may be possible to understand and satisfy the longing of another; it might be positive to find out what kind of wild expectations someone else has, and to talk about trying to meet them this year.


The idea makes me smile: asking others what it is that they long for at Christmas. Asking others if they have strong expectations, and what they are. And seeing if there’s any way that any of them might be satisfied, or met. And thinking that even in the sharing, the conversation, the possibility of understanding more, something Christmassy would be happening. Maybe we were sent for that.

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