Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Luke 21: 29-33
Jeremiah 33: 14-16

Earlier this week, I was thinking it was going to be hard to think about Christmas. I was driving around with my window down, all my jackets hanging in the closet, no hat on, and it was after Thanksgiving. It’s beginning to look a lot like Texas!

Then, Wednesday or Thursday, the ice storm hit Dallas, and closed up the airport. You have to understand, ice storms are not unknown in Texas, but they occur once every few years. SMU, where I went to seminary, has photos of a snow covered Perkins Chapel that they use for a lot of advertising, but the photo is from the 80’s. It just doesn’t happen every year. And ice storms are a lot more common than snow.

So, winter came to the Great Plains. And then Friday, we got a humdinger of a thunderstorm here in Northeastern PA, especially for the folks up in Mountaintop. They’re pretty sure that they got an F2 tornado, and from the damage to the grocery store up there, they probably did. Three hours after the storm passed, the temperature had dropped 30 degrees.

I needn’t have worried about the weather. I live in Pennsylvania, I live in hope and expectation that winter will get here eventually. It may not look like I think it should. Winter isn’t usually announced with a big thunderstorm and a tornado. But winter is now here. It just took time and patience.

When you speak of hope and expectation of something, human nature is to construct a scenario where it will happen. Perhaps you live in hope and expectation of getting into college. You may construct the scenario in your mind you walking down the sidewalk between gorgeous ivy-covered buildings, book bag on your back. Well, the dream happens, but maybe you live off campus, and become much more familiar with the parking lots and the shuttle busses than you do the sidewalks.

Or maybe you like in hope and expectation of being cured of a disease. You might construct a scenario of never taking your health for granted, exercising better, eating correctly, and living life more fully, however that may look for you. But it happens that the cure for the disease works, but it also leaves you disabled, or altered somehow.

Or maybe you live and hope and expectation of being a grandparent, and then it finally happens. But it happens to you by kids that live 2000 miles away, or maybe it happens that you for some reason raise the grandchildren yourself.

Hope and expectations have a way of growing scenarios around them that don’t end up being true. We then find ourselves being disappointed in the midst of the achievement of what we hoped for and expected.

So it was for many who were hoping for a Messiah. The Messiah that Israel was hoping for and expecting for was a Messiah of wisdom, of strength and of power. But for those who follow the Christian faith, a Messiah of wisdom, strength and power came in the form of a baby, grew to be an adult the ordinary regular way, did not free the political entity of Israel that was under the yoke of Rome, and died as a criminal on the cross.

Not the scenario anyone would build a round a Messiah of wisdom, strength and power. But exactly as God intended, because hope grows. The things that are important, that affect us the most, are the things that grow over time.

Our children are big wrapped up bundles of parenting mistakes and successes, biology, experience and environment, the result of which we sometimes don’t see for 30 years. Professional training leads us into avenues we could not have imagined when we began our educations.

Hope grows. Scenarios fall away, and what is left is God’s will for our lives.

What scenarios are you cherishing right now? A perfect Christmas Currier and Ives scene with sleighs and snow and singing? A Norman Rockwell painting of family around a table? A Kinkade painting of Christmas trees shining through the windows of houses on rainy foggy nights?

At times, me too. I love the feeling of coming out of church on Christmas eve, near or after midnight, and the sky is clear and starry, the air is crisp and cold, and people are hollering Merry Christmas to each other as they get into their cars to go home. Their red taillights blend in with the lights on the houses they pass.

I freely admit that there’s a moment where I hope and expect that will happen. But it is a scenario that has nothing to do with Christmas as it is meant to be.

Christmas is meant to be the church’s celebration of the sending of a Messiah that will save the world. That it happens in December, which coincidentally happens with snow on the ground, makes Christmas, in our minds eye, into a scene of cold, snow, and Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” in the background. It is the scenario we build around a very serious idea—that the world has been saved by the birth of a baby. This is Christmas, when we celebrate that we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, who was born as a baby and raised as a human being, who is one with the Father, who will, as Jeremiah says. “execute justice and righteousness in the land”, and who will, on Good Friday, die to save us. And who will, on Easter, be raised by God to overcome the power of death and sin.

It’s tough to build a scenario around that hope and expectation, but in the end it is that hope and expectation that can be relied on. And so we begin that time of thinking about and waiting for the moment this year when we see it, we get it, we feel it, again. This is Advent. When Hope grows into faith.

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