We all have expectations. We have things we want to accomplish. Particularly, as Christmas approaches, we want to meet our expectations. In most cases, the expectations are defined by physical and material needs. When accomplished, they lead to a feeling of happiness. At other times, our expectations may look unrealistic, leaving us disappointed and possibly sad. For instance, shopping may be your expectation at this time. Wearing new look, traveling, or having a big Christmas party, etc. You worry about having not shopped as planned or about how your new hairstyle will look. Recently, a teenage boy came to talk to me about his expectations at Christmas. For him, it was wrapping of Christmas gifts. He described his excitement about this expectation and how he looked forward to it. That is great.
An expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” It is “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” Expectation can be an aspect of hope but not the complete picture of hope because hope is a guarantee of things that are not yet seen basically because the believer hopes that they will come through in Christ Jesus. Expectations are about plans for the future while hope is a virtue. Expectations might help to either sustain hope or crash it, depending on how much we are rooted in faith.
The gospel of this third Sunday of Advent presents us with some image of expectations. John the Baptist was in prison when he heard about the works of Jesus. He sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the one to come or whether they should look for a different messiah. John hoped that the messiah would save the people from their sins, the reason why he preached repentance. However, having heard about him, he was possibly expecting a messiah who would continue his style of admonition against the people. Maybe he was also expecting that this messiah would intervene in his situation and initiate his freedom from the Jewish authorities. The response from Jesus is different, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me." That’s a huge statement; those who do not take offense at God allow their expectations to align with the will of God. They wait patiently for God’s intentions in their lives. Whereas it might look as if Jesus did not answer directly the question of John, he made John’s disciples to grasp God’s intention in a better way. The mission of the messiah is to bring not just a physical freedom but to restore the spiritual order.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a clue about what divine expectation means with a series of grand reversals. God’s power is to fully rejuvenate and restore the deflated people of Israel in the Old Testament. The Israelites are on their return from Babylonian captivity. They have mixed feelings about their future. What will the rebuilding of the new Israel look like and how would that be accomplished after those years of slavery? In the chapters preceding today’s reading, the prophet had captured a sense of hopelessness and gloom, “The land mourns and languishes; Lebanon is confounded and withers away; Sharon is like a desert; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves” (Is. 33:9). Now, as the Israelites are returning to take possession of the land, the prophet declares, “The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.” The Lord is doing his own, yet he demands of the people, “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you” (Is. 35:2-4).
As Christmas draws near and the year comes to an end, there is the possibility that we have many expectations from God. There are chances that, as a result of our unmet expectations, many hands are feeble, knees are weak, hearts are frightened, souls are depressed, emotions are dampened. It is possible that relationships are smeared and the stable is not ready to welcome the infant King in our hearts. What are your expectations of God at this time? How do those expectations match with God’s plan for you? And what expectations might God have for you at this time?
To understand the true meaning of the coming of Christ, we must set our expectations aright. Christ says to the disciples of John, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Do you have a sense of dissatisfaction with God or with yourself? Speaking before the Angelus in St Peter’s Square on July 8, 2018, Pope Francis remarks, “God does not conform himself to preconceptions. We have to make an effort to open our hearts and minds to accept the divine reality that presents itself to us.” The Holy father described that as “the scandal of the incarnation,” when people have preconceived notions about God, which keep them from recognizing him. Setting our expectations around God’s will is the way to go.
The human condition is that sometimes we fail to understand that God goes beyond our expectations to fulfil his mission in our lives. Life challenges, failures, disappointments, and experiences of suffering can keep us within the ambience of our limitations, incapable of a spiritual vision to see what God presents before us. We become confined to our immediate needs. We want our desires satisfied. We want our hunger and thirst quenched. We want our material longings relieved. And we neglect to reach out to those in greater needs than ourselves. That is where our humanity creates a gap between our expectations and God’s expectations. God’s expectation for us is to achieve holistic freedom, to constantly anticipate the joys of heaven where the least become the great.
At this point, why not revisit your expectations for this year’s Christmas? Do you see yourself wondering like John the Baptist? Are you stuck in asking God why the economy would bite this hard? Why gas prices would soar? Why falsehood and injustice would keep showing up? Why evil would be this powerful in the social and political settings? Yes, you may be saying within your heart to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect another?” Here, Pope Francis’ advise makes a lot of sense, “The Lord invites us to adopt an approach of humble listening and waiting meekly because God’s grace often presents itself to us in surprising ways that do not match our expectations.”
The greatest expectation is that we’re privileged to have Christ the Emmanuel born in the manger of our hearts. Christ’s coming is to bring restoration and recovery to human dignity. God’s plan is that we let the joy of Christ’s coming reach the weak and downtrodden. That the blind should see, the lame should walk, the deaf should hear, the dead should be raised, and that the poor should hear the great news of salvation through us. God expects us to share his blessings, that we radiate his glory. God expects us to become sources of hope to others. Once we align with God’s expectation, the world would realize more that the coming of Christ is at hand.
Readings: 1st- Is. 35:1-6, 10; 2nd- Jas. 5:7-10; Gospel- Matt. 11:2-11