Thursday 30 November 2023

Meet Your Expectations

Advent begins this week. Depending on your traditions, you might have started the season of preparation for Christmas on the fourth Sunday before Christmas or on December 1st. If you’re doing Advent. And I hope you are.

For some people, there are four Sundays in Advent, measured by the Advent wreath with a candle to light for each Sunday. In some traditions, we’ve also given those candles themes: hope, peace, joy and love. Three of them might be purple or blue, the third one - that’s joy - might be pink, and then there’s a middle candle that’s white for Christmas.

Others might use an Advent calendar that begins on December 1 and has a little door to open for each of the twenty four days leading to Christmas. Some of those little doors have a little picture behind it. Some have a little chocolate. Some have anything from a fancy chocolate to a cookie to Legos to socks, makeup, tea, various fancy foods, meats, different kinds of alcohol, books, model cars, even seeds and plants. Anything, really. While it might seem that its purpose has slipped simply into entertainment, it’s still fulfilling the first part of its function: counting down the days to Christmas.

Or, more appropriately, counting up the days. Both the wreath and the calendar address the time that needs to be covered, but what are you doing with that time? How are you preparing for Christmas?

We talk about Advent as a time of anticipation, a time of expectation. One of the most frequently sung advent hymns is Charles Wesley’s “Come, thou long expected Jesus.” Jesus has come (the expected messiah of the gospel stories), is coming to our hearts again and again (expected in how we live out those stories), and promises to come again (the expected “second coming”). So we take time to reflect, in preparation for the expected.

I think there’s more than that in our sense of expectation, though. Along with Jesus, some are expecting a busy season. Some expect events, parties and dinners. Some expect baking, shopping and decorating. Some expect family gatherings, traditions, familiar carols and yes, church services. Some expect a difficult time, grieving a person missing or better times in past years.

And it’s not just that. We have expectations about how those things should go, what they should be and what they should mean. And: we’ve already decided that.

But the story we celebrate is full of the wonder of the unexpected. Mary and Joseph didn’t expect to hear such life changing news from angels. Neither did the shepherds. The magi didn’t expect the star or the promised king to be a child in poverty. Mary and Joseph didn’t expect magi at their door, either.

Imagine how the world could be if we came to it with wonder, rather than expectations waiting to be met. Imagine if we lived into the hope and promise of what Jesus is all about. That’s a message for us personally and as a community.

Wreath or calendar, weeks or days, take a moment and wonder. Wonder at how each of the characters in the Christmas story engaged the unexpected with an open heart and an open mind. There’s no better way to be prepared.