It’s the end of a busy and chaotic year, and I just feel so weary. Yet here is Advent, here is a voice crying out, “prepare the way of the Lord.” And it’s just one more thing on the endless list of tasks.
It’s so easy to feel guilty for not making this key Christian season a priority, to not set this time apart as sacred. But I feel like I have nothing left to give.
Traditionally Hope is the theme for the first week of Advent, though another guide labels it as Expectancy. I like the sure certainty of the second, it speaks of acting towards. Hope seems too distant, too ethereal. But expectancy? I can plan for it.
I can expect a friend to be coming round, so put the kettle on. I can expect Christmas in nineteen days and plan for it by wrapping presents, baking cookies, coordinating with family so we don’t all bring salad.
Even with some unexpecteds, we have scripts we can go to, knowledge of how to handle it and respond. It’s why we do practice runs in first aid courses, why we have emergency procedures written down before things happen rather than reactively. Summer heat and sun is here early? Then let’s get the sunshade up, the suncream out, let’s reorder activities so we’re not outside in the heat of the day. We know what to do.
But hope? How do we handle that when it comes to pass? We don’t really quite know how to respond when that best-possible-result happens, when that secret dream that we don’t really believe is possible actually comes true. We can see it in lottery winners, most of whom are no better off, if not worse off, five or so years after a big win. They weren’t planning on it happening, so they didn’t know what to do when it did.
I wonder if the Israelites were the same way as they waited for a messiah. Do you think they said to each other, “it sounds so lovely, it would be so great if that happened, but it never will, the world doesn’t work like that.” Do you think they looked around themselves at all the evidence of why it could never be true? Perhaps some scoffed at the idea of being a chosen people of God, when they seemed just like everyone else.
How many do you think had the hope, but not the expectancy? “Not in my lifetime.” “Dreams are free,” they say, “but how does that help me put food on the table?” Maybe they had a saying similar to this old favourite: “If wishes were horses then wombles would ride.”
But we read in Luke 2 of two people who weren’t just hoping a messiah would come, but who were living in expectation.
Anna is an old woman, probably over 100 (84 years of widowhood + 7 years of marriage + n-years to reach ‘maidenhood’), labelled a prophetess. She recognised Jesus as the answer to Jerusalem’s search for redemption.
Simeon is the other, and I have always pictured him as old too, not because there is any mention of his age in Luke, but because after seeing Jesus he is willing to release his life into death, his life is now complete in his eyes. The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, the Christ. And so, he could live in expectancy, knowing that at some point it was sure to happen. Luke says that Simeon was prompted by the Spirit that day to go into the temple – to be in the right place at the right time for God’s promise to come to pass.
Both Simeon and Anna responded to seeing Jesus with praise and thanksgiving to God. These two people, amidst thousands of other Israelites and Gentiles could see in this babe God’s promise of a messiah coming to pass – because they were expecting it.
It’s easy for us to expect Christmas. It happened, as a singular event, more than two thousand years ago, and we now have a set date to celebrate it. But what other hopes have we been promised that we are failing to expect? Do we trust our God to be faithful in their delivery too?
In English, hope is more closely linked to wishes and dreams, distant and ethereal, than expectations and goals that we can plan and deliberately move towards. But in the original language of the Bible, what is translated as ‘hope’ is more of a sure expectancy.
It’s easy for us to sit back and wait for God to miraculously bring his promises to fruition, but God asks to partner with us in bringing this God-story to life. God wants our hands and feet and mouths at work in unity with the Spirit. We are part of the force bringing these hopes to reality. We are part of the answer to the world’s cry for redemption and healing. We are part of bringing God’s kingdom to this earth.
A few years ago, God gave me a bit of insight into what I’m heading towards, but for most of that time I have left it untouched, I have done very little to directly prepare myself for it. But we are not called to stand still, we are filled with the Holy Spirit which blows through us and moves across the earth. A wind which is still is no wind at all. So how can we be people of the Spirit if we just sit on our hands waiting for things to happen?
Christmas is coming. So, yes, how can we prepare for it?
But more importantly, how can we prepare the way of the Lord to move in and through our lives? How can we prepare ourselves for the work to come? How can we bring God’s kingdom to this earth? How can we be people of expectancy?