Sometimes our expectations do not match our need.
In the church calendar we are now into our second week of the year. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation that comprises the liturgical season of Advent.
One meaning of Advent is derived from the Latin word "adventus," which translates as "coming." It is an expectant time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the incarnation of the messiah that occurred through the nativity of Jesus at Christmas. And, while most of us are familiar with a version of that story today, we should remember that the way Jesus came onto the scene was a shock to those who were faithfully waiting for him.
When God's people in Jesus' day thought of a messiah, they had in mind a person who shared their interests, who would fight for what they believed in, and who would be a defender of their causes. They imagined a brawny champion who would immediately set them free of their current displeasures. Instead, what they got was a baby born of a teenage girl in an unconventional family -- not exactly what they had imagined.
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This child would grow up among them, later going on to criticize them, go against their established traditions and turn their understandings of loyalty to God upside down. Jesus would ask for their complete willingness to change. He'd challenge their concepts of possession and money as well as their political affiliations. He'd confront their social cliques and their perceptions of others. What's more, he'd often gravitate toward those who seemed less religious who were more focused on being positively changed than judging others.
Like some of the folks in first century Judea, we too often have unrealistic expectations of who God is to be for us. This is called idolatry. Instead of worshipping who God is, we worship who we want God to be.
To support our expectations we often create semi-spiritual "to-do" lists and then either pat ourselves on the back if we accomplish our self-established goals or live in guilt because, once again, we weren't quite up to the manufactured task. In my opinion, this is a pretty miserable way to live. Why? Well, because in both scenarios we are fully relying on ourselves for success, and from what I can tell, self-reliance ultimately ends in death.
I believe there is another, better option. It is to put our faith in God in the moment. It is to engage each experience of our lives with the possibility that God can use us right now to change our present reality. It is to constantly challenge the status quo seeking justice for those who are poor, hungry and disenfranchised. It is to regularly question how God would have us to spend our money, use our time and live our lives. It is to look forward to the workings of a God who will mold us, mend us and even shake up our preconceived and contrived notions of existence.
This is a reality that, in my experience, results in joy and is a reminder that the Christ who is coming is presently risen. It is a reminder of the fact that we are free to love and serve instead of being bound by a legalism that we cannot uphold. And it is a constant encouragement that God loves us enough to break through the dimensional bounds of time and space to come for us -- in order to give us gladness and new life. It is, simply put, a gift.
The question for us all this Advent season is: Is it a gift that we are willing to receive?
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.