“Advent” – it means the coming or arrival of something very important. For us, that “something important” is the birth of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. So, Advent is the time we spend preparing to welcome Jesus on Christmas morning. Advent is also a time that may confuse us. Christmas decorations have been up in the stores since Halloween. Christmas carols have been playing since before Thanksgiving. What we see and what we hear often has little or nothing to do with Jesus. It doesn’t seem like we are really preparing for the arrival of our Savior; it seems like we are consumed by the rush to get everything done on time.
What does “Advent” really mean for you? Are you so busy with preparations for Christmas that you can’t see the Christ? What song is stuck in your head – “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Away in a Manger”? Does your shopping list include a category for what God wants from you this year? What are your expectations this Christmas?
About the time the Angel Gabriel visited Mary with the news of her pregnancy, she was busy with other things. Mary and Joseph were engaged and the wedding plans were underway. There was much to be done with flowers and caterers and deejays…The last thing she expected to be dealing with was an unplanned pregnancy. God turned Mary’s life upside down at a time when she was really busy with other things. Can you imagine what must be going through her head right now; what is she going to tell her parents? But Mary had found favor with God and this was the greatest blessing of her life! Mary had expectations for her life…She and Joseph would be married; one day they would raise a family; their life would be simple in their little village of Nazareth. The news the angel brings doesn’t leave much room for Mary’s expectations. Mary could not imagine how the angel’s message could be true…She only knew what was obvious to her. It was hard for Mary to imagine God’s blessing in the midst of the sudden chaos in her life…She didn’t expect to be visited by an angel…She didn’t expect to be pregnant before the wedding; her mama had told her how all that worked and she hadn’t done that yet. Mary’s expectations were set aside in favor of God’s expectations…surprise!
Sometimes God tries to bless us in the midst of the chaos that is our life. This time of year is more hectic than usual and it may be hard to believe that God can bless us in the middle of all the tinsel and glitter. It can be a challenge for us to find God while we are out looking for the perfect gift for someone on our list. The key is being alert and expectant of God’s plan for us in spite of our own plans. The story of Mary tells us that God works unexpectedly in the lives of ordinary people. Mary’s life became extraordinary because she allowed herself to become part of God’s unexpected plan. Our challenge is to open ourselves up to full participation in God’s expectations. We live in between the reality of Christ already having come and yet coming again…It is this “already” and “not yet” nature of God’s kingdom that demands us to be alert and ready…filled with expectation. We must look forward to the future of kingdom-living, while still participating in the very real kingdom-building here on earth. God will do extraordinary things with us if we will allow it…God will not be contained by our expectations.
We are caught off guard by this scripture text…Here we are at the beginning of the church year, preparing for the joy of Christmas, and along comes this text about the end of time. That can be hard for us to hear right now. It is important that we realize that the expectation of this season cannot be fully realized without the truth of what is coming. Christmas is a joyous time of year for most of us…It is a time for festive decorations, parties, and shopping…Even the church is filled with bright Christmas decorations…We encourage the joy and welcome the spirit of Christmas.
What Mark’s text reminds us of is who this baby we welcome really is…This tiny baby we anticipate; we sing about; we wait for; this boy is the Messiah…Humanity has been waiting for this One for thousands of years…Yet, for all the waiting, for all the anticipation, the world didn’t recognize him when he arrived. That is why it is so important that we share the joyous expectations for Christmas day with the prophetic expectations for what is to come…Beyond the joy, what else is there? When the tinsel and garland are down, what then? We now know that Jesus will ultimately turn his world upside down, preaching and teaching a radical truth to the people…Then he will go to his death and rise again sending a whirlwind of redemption throughout the world…The final promise is that he will come back one day and God’s plan will be realized…That is a promise we can hang our expectations on…But what do we do in the meantime?
Mark’s gospel says…“Stay alert! Wait!” This text puts us in a state of constant expectation…waiting for a distant unknown. But, that is not the point. What is Jesus really talking about? Does he want us to sit around waiting for his return? I don’t think so. I believe we are called to act in the midst of our waiting. When Jesus describes this scene of the head of the house going on a trip and leaving things in the hands of his servants, he gives us an idea of what the Master expects…While he is away, the staff still needs to care for and maintain the household…The house must be ready at anytime for the master’s return. Are we not called to this same kind of “waiting”? Jesus left the earth with a clear mission for us…Make disciples. We cannot get lost in the “waiting” and forget to BE the church…There is plenty to do to care for and maintain the household that God left to us. Start thinking outside the box and try to imagine what it might look like to focus more on God’s expectations and less on ours.
Our Advent and Christmas Season does not need to be the same every year…I know we love our time-honored traditions…I know there are certain things that every family does every year and it just wouldn’t be Christmas if you changed…I get that…The thing is that this year is different from last year…Every year is different from the year before…Doing things the same way as always will not stop things from changing. Our world has changed; there are new people in our lives with different issues; we change…What would it look like if we embraced all this change and “newness” and found new ways to take Jesus to the world? I guess it really depends on what you expect from Christmas this year and what you think God expects from you. Amen.