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Good Things to Come
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means “coming” or “arrival”. It is also the first Sunday of the church calendar year.
So we begin the new year by waiting for the coming of Christ. But it is not just ordinary waiting. It is waiting with great expectation.
Jesus uses this example in today’s passage:
It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. (Mark 13:34)
He then goes on to say:
Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. (Mark 13:35)
Be alert. Be awake with expectation.
Today, I want to meditate on expectation. Expectation is the feeling that good things are about to come.
My daughter gets so excited for December because starting December 1, they begin the Advent calendar that contains a chocolate each day. She looks forward to Christmas, when Santa brings presents.
There is great expectation. Expectation brings excitement. It gives you something to look forward to. It gives you motivation and energy.
Going The Way We Expect
I’ve officiated a number of weddings now and it’s been a great privilege. During the ceremony, you can really tell when a couple is in love. People cry when they recite sincere vows to one another.
There is great expectation of a happy life ahead for the couple. Everyone shares in the joy of that expectation.
Living with expectation is a great gift to human beings.
But many times, our expectations go unfulfilled. They get chipped away.
Somehow, the marriage is not as smooth and happy as I expected. The job is not as fulfilling as I expected. Achieving all that I wanted has not given me the satisfaction I expected.
My life has not gone the way I expected.
Underneath expectations is hope. A belief that something desired will come to be.
When things don’t turn out as we hoped, it affects our expectations.
At first there is an effort to keep our expectations alive. You try and put in great effort. You wait patiently.
But somehow, if things don’t change, you get frustrated. Disappointment starts creeping in. Your heart gets tired of waiting.
I wonder if that happened in the master’s house. At first, they were attentive and waiting expectantly for the master to return. But after weeks, months and years, maybe they grew tired of waiting.
When this happens, you lose belief that what you hope for will happen. Instead of giving you energy, the expectation becomes tiring. It becomes a reminder of the disappointment in your heart.
When your heart is tired, expectation turns into resignation.
Living with Indifference
Resignation is having no expectations. It is seeing your undesired situation as inevitable.
I don’t want to be in this situation, but it’s inevitable and unchangeable. And so you give up on having any expectations.
Resignation then becomes indifference: the absence of any feeling about the situation you’re in. You don’t care any more.
Indifference is the end result of unmet expectations. From expectation to resignation to indifference.
A life of indifference is a life of no expectations. It’s a dull life. It is a tiring life. Everything just drains you.
All you can pursue are pleasures to escape the indifferent life you’re living. But beyond that, there is no joy, no motivation, no sense of direction.
The problem with indifference is that you fail to notice the possibilities of change.
Jesus said this:
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (Mark 13:28-29)
Indifference prevents you from seeing new things that are about to happen. Instead of being ready for new things, you remain asleep in your indifference.
I’ve seen this happen many times. As children, you see the expectation in their eyes. But when you meet them much later, that sparkle is gone. They don’t live with any expectation. They just get by from one day to the next.
A Mask For Our Hope
I don’t believe that indifference is our natural way to live. That is not how God created us.
God created us to live with great expectations.
Life is more than just getting by and enjoying the pleasures of life. Life is about living with the excitement and flavour that expectation brings!
The difficulty of overcoming indifference is that it forces you to come face to face with your despair.
The loss of hope you felt when your efforts failed. The disappointment you felt. The fear of failure and more disappointment.
It feels easier to remain in your indifference. At least that way I won’t feel any more disappointment or failure.
But my friends, indifference is not really the absence of feeling. Indifference is a mask.
It is a mask that covers up hidden hope. Hope that is afraid. Hope that has been buried. Hope that is asleep.
Indifference is the result of disappointed hope.
Albert Einstein said this:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I agree with that. But what if you’ve tried different things but still get the same results? Lowered expectations and indifference come when you get the same results no matter what you’ve tried.
Sometimes, the situation is not in your control. What can you do? There will be seasons where we struggle with diminished expectations. We will struggle with resignation and indifference.
But we cannot remain indifferent forever. Life is too short to just let it pass by.
We need to take off our masks of indifference and reconnect with the hope inside of us, no matter how fragile or broken it might be.
A Cry for God
One day, a Gentile woman came to Jesus. She begged him to heal her sick daughter. Jesus had a very strange and rude reply:
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:28)
He’s saying that I came to serve other Jews. The woman could have given up in despair. But she would not be deterred.
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28)
She did not allow herself to be defeated by her circumstances. She would accept even the crumbs if that’s what it took.
That is faith! Jesus was so moved by her faith that he healed her daughter.
Faith is not a reasonable, logical belief in God. Faith is a desperate cry about the situation that kills our expectations.
It is a cry against indifference. It is a cry against despair in the heart. It is a cry that you have tried everything, but you are at the end of the rope.
My friends, if you can figure things out on your own, then you don’t need faith.
Faith is for those who know there are limits to what we can do on our own. It’s for those who know they need a higher power to go beyond what they can do. Faith is a cry for God to come and make things right.
The image of the Son of Man coming down from clouds is an apocalyptic image. Apocalyptic faith arose when the situation of Jews became unbearable.
Their situation was awful. Their temple was desecrated by foreign rulers. They were massacred. They were utterly powerless.
But instead of giving into despair, something else happened. From that dark, hopeless situation, they began to have visions of God breaking in from the heavens to make things right.
Apocalyptic faith is not a rational faith. It is a desperate faith that comes from your gut.
It is a declaration of belief in God, but it is even more a desperate plea for God to come and do something.
Await New Things
People of faith face despair and disappointment just like everyone else.
But people of faith do not sit back and give up! They fight! They cry out to God. God come and save me!
Advent starts off the new church year. The year begins when the days are dark and short. When the air gets cold.
In this darkness comes a desperate cry for God to come. That cry awakens our hearts to wait in expectation.
In the darkness of exile, the prophet Isaiah said this:
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
God is about to do a new thing in your life. Can you perceive it? Awaken the expectation in your heart and wait for God to come.