Message on Hope
by Rev. Wendy Downing
Steelville Presbyterian Church
Years ago, I saw a maternity shop named “Great Expectations.” That’s what this season is all about, isn’t it? Expectations. That’s what these two passages are about. Both passages are the kind that look forward, and look to the future, with a deep sense of anticipation and expectation. Isaiah was looking forward to and expecting the coming of the Messiah. And in Matthew we find the Messiah looking forward and expecting the end times.
That’s what sets Advent apart from all the other seasons of the Church. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. You can feel it all around you. The closer we get to Christmas day, the more electric the world gets. And I don’t just mean all the lights going up on everyone’s homes and trees. There’s something electric in the air; something in the way people treat one another; something in the way “the world in silent slumber waits” to wake from its sleep and welcome the Messiah. Just before the birth of Christ, the world was filled with that same sort of expectation and anticipation.
Isaiah pointed the nation of Israel to the future. He pointed to the coming of the Messiah. And the people waited with excited anticipation. And they waited for a long, long time. Each generation recalled the promise and started waiting for that day. And with each generation, a new thought, or a new spin on what the Messiah would be like, was passed down. Like the patrons of that maternity store, I mentioned earlier, the people were filled with “Great expectations.”
You all have probably played hide-and-seek before. Well, at PYG, we play a new version of hide-and-seek called Sardines. Instead of calling out when you find the person hiding, you climb into the hiding spot with them. The last person left looking becomes “it” for the next game. Don’t you remember as a kid, playing hide-and-seek and finding a really good spot? You sit in the dark, alone, waiting for the others to find you. You have a knot in your stomach and your breath catches as someone enters the room. They look around and you don’t know if they will open the door that leads to your hiding place, or whether they will keep looking somewhere else. The silent tension of the excitement and expectation is so thick in the air, you can cut it with a knife. You hold your breath until the door opens, and you are caught.
That feeling of expectation and excitement is one of those delicious moments of life. There is nothing else quite like it. That’s what the anticipation and expectation of this season are like. And that’s what the world was feeling when the Messiah was born.
Little David’s favorite character in the whole world was Superman. He had Superman pajamas and a Superman plate and cup. He had the action figure of Superman. And for his third birthday, Little David received a Superman cape. He was ecstatic, as he put on the cape and ran as fast as he could around the backyard. It wasn’t too long though, before he returned to the house, out of breath, with the cape in his hand. In disgust, he threw it on the floor and said, “This thing doesn’t work.” His expectation was that the cape would make him fly.
Unfortunately, sometimes the reality doesn’t always live up to our expectations. It’s like being at a surprise party, hearing someone say, “Shhhhh, I think she’s coming!” Everybody gets ready. The door opens. And in walks the wrong person. It’s like cold water in the face of our excitement and expectation. That’s how the leaders of the synagogue, the leaders of the country, and the community leaders must have felt when they saw or heard about Jesus. They expected a Messiah. They expected a Savior. They expected a cape that could make them fly…But, they didn’t expect what they got. They expected a Savior, but not like Jesus. They expected a king and got a baby.
There was a lot of expecting going on. They expected a royal mansion and a palace, and they got a stable.
They expect a royal nursery, they got a manger.
They expected robes, they got swaddling clothes.
They expected courtiers, they got shepherds.
They expected a royal birth, they got an unwed mother on a donkey.
They expected a mover and a shaker, they got a carpenter.
They expected a King on a white horse, to claim his throne, and they got a Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey.
They expected a throne, they got a cross.
They expected riches, they got parables.
They expected glory and honor, they got a crucifixion.
They expected a Savior, but not like this.
They were all expecting the Messiah, but they were surprised when he came because even though they expected him, he came in an unexpected way. But then that’s just like God to do something like that. God is always doing incredible things in unexpected ways. When the woman at the well went to draw water, she never dreamed it would be the living water of salvation and redemption. But one of the truths about God is that God always does the expected in unexpected ways.
So, as you prepare your hearts and homes for the celebration of the birth of Christ, expect the unexpected. You never know where you might meet the Messiah.
I don’t remember where I read this story, but a mother told the story that one year at Christmas, things were tight. After the bills were paid, there wasn’t much left for her and the four kids to use to spend on each other for Christmas. That year she took them to the mall and gave them each a twenty-dollar bill and told them that’s all they had to spend on each other. The kids didn’t care. They all went off thinking of inexpensive and creative ways they could spend their five dollars per person. Mom gave instructions to meet back in an hour.
The hour went by quickly and pretty soon everyone gathered. Everybody was excited and they were all hiding their bags so no one could see. The youngest daughter’s bag was the smallest. But Mom didn’t think too much about it until they got into the car, and she dropped it. It fell open and candy bars fell out. The youngest daughter turned red, hurriedly picked up the candy bars, and shoved them back in her bag.
Mom was furious. She knew her youngest daughter was a little irresponsible and had a sweet tooth, but to go and spend all the Christmas money on herself was unthinkable. Mom stewed on it all the way home. They all rushed into the house to wrap their presents. Mom followed the youngest daughter into her room, closed the door, and started telling her how disappointed she was in her for spending all of her money on candy bars.
The girl started to cry. And then said, “But I didn’t. These aren’t for me. These are the presents for you and the others.” Then mom asked, “What happened to the rest of the money?”
The little girl explained that she had been shopping and couldn’t find anything she liked for anyone else. While she was shopping, she saw a tree covered with Angels. So she went to see what it was all about and found an Angel with the name of a little girl on it who needed a pair of gloves, a coloring book, and crayons. She thought about all of the things she and her family had and decided to buy those things for that little girl.
When she was finished, all she had left was enough to buy everybody in the family a candy bar. Mom learned a valuable lesson about assumptions and expectations. She saw the unexpected Jesus in her daughter.
When it comes to God, we’re called to be ready at all times. And we’re called to expect the unexpected. This is the season of expectation. Be filled with the excitement of expectation. Prepare your homes and your families. Prepare yourselves. Expect to meet God in unexpected places and unexpected faces. Expect the unexpected and be surprised by the grace of God. Amen.
Rev. Wendy Downing
Steelville Presbyterian Church