The expectations have already been building. The trees were up in some stores this year before Halloween rolled by. The commercials started invading our televisions and radios well before Thanksgiving, and lights started climbing poles in shopping areas long before we flipped the calendar over to read “December.” And the expectations will continue to build…we can’t wait for the time with our relatives, can’t wait for the time off from work, can’t wait to see the looks on our loved ones’ faces when they open up their well-thought-out gifts. Many of us are full of life, full of smiles, this time of year because we expect Christmas to be a joyous family event fully of turkey, presents, and love. We expect that Christmas will be wonderful.
As you probably know, we focus on expectation at this point in the church year as well; the season of Advent. We decorate the sanctuary, put up the Advent wreath, and change the sanctuary paraments to blue or purple. We will hear about faith, joy, hope, and love as we light the Advent candles. Through Scripture and song, we will hear about the expectations that were realized in Bethlehem when God broke into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. We will wait, again, with expectation for that day when we celebrate that God did come down, Immanuel, into human form.
But there is also something more, something deeper and more powerful to Advent as well. As many of you know, or perhaps experience, December is not a time of joyful expectation for everyone. There are many who have lost loved ones, who face uncertain financial strains, who have family members overseas, who have haunting memories of previous Christmases. There are many people, many of us in the Body of Christ, for whom the expectations this time of year are different. The end of the year… stained relationships…memories past…lead many of us to hesitate or even feel abandoned at Christmas. A good number of us, often silent, expect Christmas to be a reminder of our hurt.
But that is when we must claim the real power of Advent as a season of restorative hope. Advent is not just a time when we remember when Christ was born thousands of years ago, but also a time when we look forward, in expectation, to God’s promise of peace and restoration. Along with Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, the Magi, Mary, Joseph, and Simeon, we will look beyond the hardships of the day to see God working in our midst to bring peace, hope, and joy until that day when they reach perfection. And as surely as we know that Christ came so many years ago, we also know that Christ has brought and will continue bring healing, restoration, and the Kingdom of God until the day it is fully, finally realized.
That is our hope, our complete hope, this time of year. It lifts us up in grief and cuts through our temporary distractions. The true and greatest hope that sustains us through even the hardest times: that through God, in Christ, we will see the day when there truly is peace on earth and the will of God, the good will of God for our lives, will be realized.