Advent is a season of waiting and a season of expectation. We are called to carry the same anticipation for the coming of Jesus that the world had before his birth 2000 years ago. It is a season of hope. Hope that God will continue to work in the world, transforming lives, calling us to repentance, and blessing the faithful. But as we enter this chaotic season of family gatherings, too many desserts, and way too much money spent on material gifts, what exactly are we waiting for God to do?
Expectation requires us to truly have faith that God is doing something. We expect God, we don't just hope for God. But what do we expect? What will God's work look like? The ancient Jewish people looked for signs in the prophets. Many looked for a powerful, mighty king, who would lead an army over the forces of evil and oppression in the world. A King on a throne who no one could question, who would leave no doubt as to the power of God, and who carried enough divine authority that every nation would bow to him. Yet, Jesus looked nothing like that. The Hebrew people were not only surprised by the humble teacher and healer who came into the world, they rejected him completely, putting him on the cross because he didn't come the way they wanted him to or teach the lessons they hoped he would. I suspect the modern church has the same problem as we shape our expectations of what God is doing and will do next. As we grind through another commercialized set of modern rituals this Christmas season, how would we respond if Christ called us to change everything about our celebrations? What if he challenged our modern traditions the way he did the ancient Hebrew leaders? What if he called us to shift from commercialization completely towards charity? What if he called us to invite foreigner and enemy into our homes instead of family and friends? What if our gifts to God weren't sufficient because the spirit of those gifts were given out of obligation instead of abundance? What if Elf on the Shelf and Santa Clause were replaced with feeding the poor and providing personal care to the widows and orphans? Imagine if Jesus asked ten times more of us than we have ever given and called us to complete transformation instead of small, manageable changes or acts of kindness? Would those expectations match your expectations this season? How would you respond?
It is always difficult to discern the ways God is working in the world. But consider it wisdom to imagine God's work being beyond our own imagination or expectations. If anything, the Gospels provide lesson after lesson where Jesus asks for above and beyond what people think they are capable of. Jesus tells a rich man to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor. He tells the disciples that they cannot follow him and stay with their family. We are called to give up our very bodies as living sacrifices. This season, are we truly prepared to be a part of God's work? Are we truly prepared for a Christ-child to upend everything we do and everything we are?
Charles Dickens' classic tale "A Christmas Carol" isn't just about a Scrooge with a bad attitude. It was about calling everyone to capture the true essence of the season. While Scrooge is a caricature of extreme greed and extreme cruelty, he represents anyone who misses the bigger and better purposes of the season. The story is about complete generosity, a fully giving heart, a deep sense of compassion, and a love for all more than we love ourselves. Yet, Scrooge doesn't just adopt those feelings without having his heart stirred and troubled by the spirits that appear to him. He doesn't capture those feelings simply because he's reminded of them. He goes through the difficult work confronting his own past pains, his own present actions, and the possible consequences of his dark future if he doesn't change his ways.
Christ is willing to work on us this season, but there is no guarantee that it won't be uncomfortable. There is no guarantee that if we have expectations that God will do something, that those things will not be what we hope they are. We too, might have to confront our past, deal with our present, and repent in ways that lead to a better future. Will we turn away when the Christ-child comes again this Christmas? Will we merely acknowledge the comfortable parts of the season, the comfortable acts of kindness that we are obliged to give? Or will we change what we expect, and open ourselves to the possibility that Christ wants something so much bigger, better, and more important than anything we've ever done during this busy holiday? As you prepare your hearts and minds during this Advent season, what do you truly expect? Are you ready for God to show you something different? Amen.