As Christians, what do we expect,
and what might our expectations prevent us from seeing?
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus challenges the crowd’s preconceived notions of the Messiah. The people go into the desert expecting to find a man with great human powers who can save them politically as well as spiritually. Did you expect to see someone in fine clothing? Jesus asks them, or a prophet? In John the Baptist, they have indeed found a prophet; in Jesus, they find so much more: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear… Jesus, present before them, is nothing short of extraordinary, defying their expectations as he preaches the Good News of salvation. Do they see him? For real?
Long before the time of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah told a people in exile of God’s promise of deliverance, as symbolized by the paradox of a flowering desert: the desert and parched land will exult, he says, the steppe will rejoice and bloom. From of old, the people of Israel have held to God’s promise, made out of love, that they will one day be restored: here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Is it any wonder the Jews of Jesus’ time came to believe in a Messiah who could overturn Roman rule? Psalm 146 likewise sings of restoration, a promise that the oppressed and the hungry will be restored; even orphans and widows, traditionally disadvantaged groups, will be sustained in this reign of God, a God of justice. Similarly, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians everywhere waited with great expectations for his return. James, writing to Jewish Christians, counsels them to be patient until the coming of the Lord, which, he promises, is at hand. We are still waiting – what are our expectations?
What do we go out to the desert to see, during Advent? There are so many unknowns: is it not better to relinquish our expectations and open our hearts to what God sends, knowing that what we hope for will come, but in God’s time, not ours? What do we go out to the desert to see, during Advent? Perhaps it’s time to let go of our expectations and live only in the hope of the Incarnation, with all the patience we can muster.
This post is based on Fr. Pat’s Scripture class.
Image source: Wordle
Image source: Wordle