Great Expectations

Today we gather for the first Sunday of Advent. The word Advent is derived from the Latin Adventus and it means ‘coming’. The word ‘coming’ can create a variety of emotional reactions ranging from fear to joy; depending upon WHAT is coming and our situation in life at the time.

Within the Christian traditions, Advent takes on a dual meaning. In one case, we recognize the word on the Church calendar as a season of 4 weeks preparing us for Christmas. In another, we are continuously preparing for Christ’s promised return. In either case, the word ‘coming’ is deeply connected to another word…‘waiting’.

As I prepared for today’s message, the words Great Expectations took me back to the popular Charles Dickens novel. First published in December 1860, we read about the adventurous life of Pip, who began the story as a poor orphan. Do you remember reading the story?

There were several examples of great expectations that fell short. The poor orphan Pip inherited a lot of money that nurtured great expectations, but later due to circumstances beyond his control, losthis inheritance and his life spiraled back down. The eccentric Miss Havisham had great expectations of married life and a family, but after being left at the altar, she became cynical and built walls around her heart. Estella, her beautiful but cold adopted daughter had great expectations of living a life of wealth and ease, which resulted in a brutal marriage and becoming a widow.

The title of Dickens story has an ironic twist. The Great Expectations that each character pursued in their unique ways did not deliver joy and peace as hoped. Some characters didn’t realize until they had traveled long difficult paths that their own great expectations were preventing them from experience true peace and joy. And others died in their darkness without seeing light.

Part of the reality of life is that we have expectations, some realistic and others not so much. But I’m guessing that everyone in this place has faced a time when expectations fell short, or didn’t occur at all.We even recognize it in today’s texts.

In Jeremiah we read, “The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.” The Israelites were in captivity when the Prophet proclaimed these words from the Lord. They were in a difficult season of advent, waiting for the coming of great expectations found in freedom and restoration of their nation.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians, that he gave thanks and prayedfor the young church as he waited to come to them. He prayed for God to provide a way for the Apostle and his crew to reach their expectations. Notice Paul’s suggestions as to how the Thessalonians wait. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for everyone else; and may he strengthen your hearts so that you are blameless and holy.”

And in our Gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus said to pay attention to the signs, yet “be careful or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap…be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Some days our lives might resemble a lack of expectations like young Pip, broken expectations like Miss Havisham, and/or confused expectations like those of Estella. But our hope lies in the promised expectations of God in salvation through Jesus Christ and Divine presence through the Holy Spirit.

In the midst of a broken world (and we certainly find ourselves in one today), Paul instructed people in their waiting to continue loving so that hearts are strengthened and Jesus said to be on watch and pray, so as not to fall into the trap of anxieties and hopelessness.

No matter what happens around us, God is still on the throne. On this Advent Sunday we wait, preparing for Christ’s coming with love for one another and prayer, trusting in his promise of renewal and great expectations. Amen.