1st Sunday of Advent (C) – November 28, 2021
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Advent Expectation: What It’s All About
Of all of the seasons we celebrate in the Church, Advent is by far my favorite. And, predictably, this stems from the fact that whenever Advent began, whenever the Advent wreath and candles were brought out, whenever everything shifted to this season—that’s when as a little kid anticipation started to build, that’s when as a college kid looking for a break you saw the light at the end of the tunnel: Christmas is coming! And it’s just pure expectation, pure anticipation.
But it’s a tricky thing, this whole Advent business. Advent: it’s not a time to let us get ready to celebrate Christmas. (And I know, my siblings hate when I say things like this, because they’re like, “Mike, you are such a Scrooge.” And that’s true.) But I’m sorry, it’s just the truth. Advent is not some four-week countdown to get your Christmas shopping done, to clean your house, to bake some cookies, decorate, all of that. Advent is not our time to get ready to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Like, at Christmas, we’re not celebrating Jesus’ birthday for its own sake—and I know that sounds weird, but just think, Jesus’ feelings are not going to be hurt if he doesn’t get a birthday party.
We’re told many of these things as we’re growing up. Why? Because as a result—when you tell a second grader all these things, when you start baking cookies, when you start wrapping presents—what is a second grader going to do? They are going to get stoked out of their mind for Christmas! And that’s the great value in those things. As a kid growing up, and even now as adults, Advent and Christmas evoke a sense of hope and joy and excitement. Perfect!
But as we mature in our faith (and this is the point)—as we mature in our faith, those things we usually associate with Advent and Christmas become less and less helpful unless they remind us about what’s actually going on. Usually, we forget the actual “reason for the season” and fall back on our second grade mentality. All of these things—the cookies, the cheesy Christmas movies, the Christmas music—they build that feeling of expectation and anticipation…but usually we stop at Advent and Christmas as big party and miss the reality, the reason—we don’t take the one extra step to recall what we should focus on.
And so I want to invite you into the actual season of Advent. The season of Advent is what it means to be a Christian! Advent is what it’s all about. All of it. Advent is my favorite season because this is what it’s all about! In Advent, we begin to pay attention to that something we’re really waiting for—we pay attention to our expectant waiting for something.
Something Amazing: What We’re Waiting For
So what are you waiting for? If you had to name it, what are you waiting for? I know how cheesy and lame it sounds for the “preacher man” to ask this question. I know how easy it is to sit there and be like, “We know, Father! We get it! We’re waiting for Jesus, for heaven, for all that. We know.” But that’s not a helpful answer.
Like honestly, if someone were to come up to you on the street and ask you, “Hey, what is the thing you’re waiting for? What is it you anxiously anticipate and are waiting for?”—what would you answer? A better job, better health, political fixes, the country to get better, my son to get his life together. Do you see what I mean? There are real concrete expectations and hopes we have. We are always anxiously awaiting something. That’s what it means to be a human being. We are defined by this expectation. The question is always, “What? What are you waiting for?”
There’s that great scene in The Incredibles where Mr. Incredible gets out of the car and turns to see this little kid on his trike, and Mr. Incredible (a little annoyed) asks him, “Well, what are you waiting for?” And the kid says, “I don’t know! Something amazing!! I guess.”
This is us! What are we waiting for? When we have everything, when we have nothing—what are we waiting for? No matter what the situation, it seems to just be a waiting-for-something that defines us. What is it? “I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess.” We’re waiting for something amazing. Something to happen. We’re waiting for an event.
“God doesn’t answer my prayers.”
This is what I mean: have you ever had this experience where you are praying, asking, begging God for something? Throwing up a prayer to the “Big Man Upstairs”? And then he doesn’t “answer” that prayer? Anyone? Or you pray and pray and pray, and you don’t seem to hear any response? No one? Just me. No! We’ve probably all had that experience. I was talking to someone just this past week who was struggling with this exactly: faithfully praying, asking God, begging God for something—and God didn’t seem to answer.
But the issue is that we usually box God in and tell Him exactly how He has to respond for His response to count, the exact “something” He has to do. “God, I want a million dollars!!” And we don’t win the million dollars—so God must not have listened. “God, I want you to bring my son back to church!” And your son hasn’t shown up yet. “God, I want you to take this cancer away!” And it doesn’t go. “God, I need this new job!” And the job doesn’t materialize. So God must not care, He must not be listening. This something we’ve been waiting for hasn’t arrived—so we feel forgotten, abandoned, unheard, uncared for—and God seems to be pretty unfaithful and unloving.
This was the exact same for Israel. They had some very specific hopes, very specific prayers—but also, a very specifically preconceived idea of how God should respond for His response to “count.” They had a very political idea of how God needed to defeat and destroy Rome and the Roman occupation, make Israel a great and powerful nation, bring a descendant of David to the throne to gloriously rule in the actual city of Jerusalem. Again, very similar to how we have very specific and very preconceived ideas of what God needs to do.
The Actual Fulfillment of Our Actual Hope
But what if—what if, just maybe—the Lord has a completely unforeseen, unexpected response to the expectation and anticipation we feel? What if, just like when Jesus comes unexpectedly, in a completely unforeseen way in his birth in that little stable in Bethlehem, in a way that didn’t fit with the preconceived expectation—what if the Lord is going to respond to you and your concrete needs and desires and circumstances in a similar way? Completely unforeseen, unexpectedly.
Advent is a season of the expectation and hope that stems from Christmas, or better, from the fact that in the most unforeseen and unexpected of events God opened for us the way to eternal life—He became man and was born to a virgin.
In the time of ancient Israel, God had been promising to do something, to come to His people, to save His people from their enemies. And God is faithful. God is faithful. And the people of God had been waiting for God to uphold His word, the day when God would come and intervene. But they could never have imagined how, the concrete way this would happen, the amazing something, the event of His intervention.
That first Christmas showed us that in the most unlikely and backward of ways, God came once. And because of that, there is a promise, a great promise in which we now dare to hope, that He will continue to respond to us in the most unlikely and unforeseen of ways.
So yeah, get your Christmas shopping done, clean your house, decorate, bake some cookies (I like cookies) all of that! Prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior! Embrace that sense of hope and joy and excitement that you have felt since second grade! Wonderful. But now, with renewed faith and hope, turn that hope and joy and excitement to an expectation, an anticipation for Him to break into your life even now. Be on the watch, “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy,” “be vigilant at all times”—behold, “The days are coming [and are in fact here] when the Lord will fulfill his promises.” This Advent, embrace your expectation for Him to respond, and watch for the most unlikely and unexpected event of His intervention—something amazing.