Luke 3:7-18 – The 3rd Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 16, 2012
“As the people were filled with expectation…” (Luke 3:15)
I am “skirting” Bethlehem this year. Click here for why.
On my most memorable birthday . . .
. . . Let’s say I was ten, though I might’ve been younger. I’m a May birthday boy, late in the second semester, and I know this occurred during elementary school.
I so desperately wanted a party.
I’d been to the birthdays of fellow classmates and Cub Scout buddies. They all had kids galore, endless cake and ice cream and scores of presents. One brave family even handed out water pistols and told everyone to have fun: indoors, outdoors, everywhere! I couldn’t imagine my parents approving a hoard of munchkins dashing hither and yon, squirting at other children, living room furniture, the dog, the front mailbox and the backyard swing set . . . all with enough water to fill Lake Tahoe.
I made no demands for squirt guns. But, please, I wanted a mess of my friends. And truth be told, I wanted lots of presents.
Mom, the cake-maker and party-planner agreed to this.
I dimly recall her giving me a maternal reality check.
“Honey,” let’s say Mom said, “Do you really want to invite so many children to your party?”
“I want lots of kids.”
“Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a few of your best friends and–”
Let’s say I wailed. Whined. Scowled. Begged. I got my way.
Big party. A herd of kids. Huge cake. My older sister totally NOT there. This was all about me, me and me. (But no squirt guns . . . an excellent bargaining chip, by the way.)
And those presents.
Whatever my age, I can look back through the years and give a good guess at my elementary desires for presents: books (I loved to read, and in those days, please, anything by Albert Payson Terhune), baseball items (how I adored Willie Mays) or maybe a Wham-O Frisbee (nothing like seeing who could toss the Frisbee the longest).
Oh the expectations I had. I invited as many kids as I could. The more the merrier and more, more, more for Larry!
Finally, the May day came . . .
And I opened the presents. Here, my memory is as faulty as it is true. How many kids really came? Let’s say a dozen. I was (and in many ways still am) a shy guy. I might’ve fantasized about a zillion gift-bringing buddies, but I probably only had the gumption to ask a few. I’ll bet Mom chatted up some of the neighborhood mothers to make sure their children would come to my party. Some of the guests were my friends, but some of ‘em weren’t.
If there were a dozen fellow partiers, then—to continue my fractured memory—I probably received the gift of a model airplane kit from over half of them. I hated to put together those dumb, gotta-use-glue, too-much-small-print-on-the-instructions pieces of plastic junk. Yuk! Maybe I also got a puzzle or two, a box of candy and some other awful toys.
No books. No baseballs. No Frisbees.
My first let’s-invite-everyone party was my last.
Disappointment ruled the day.
Oh, but those expectations.
Expectations bring out the worst in us. As an adult, I eventually learned that reliable belief. The planning, dreaming, scheming, anticipating of events is often better than the event itself. The excitement of the day before Christmas is so often better than a kid’s disappointments in the day after. The anticipation of traveling to exotic lands—meeting new friends, tasting wondrous food, learning about different cultures—can end up in having not-so-friendly pickpockets lift your wallet, the local cuisine inspire diarrhea and discovering “foreigners” don’t know your language and treat you like dirt because you don’t know their language.
And yet expectations may represent the best of us. I could speak eloquently on the cliché of . . . it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. That’s an old, reliable trope because it is true. Even more, I’ve learned having an open-ended expectation keeps me alert to the world happening right in front of me. Presents with ribbons and colorful paper often disappoint, but not trying to live in the present moment. The more I give up expectations based on my greed or the lure of the culture’s must-have objects, and the more I remain open to the expectation of discovery, I continue growing.
Wrestling with “good” rather than “bad” expectations creates some of the most pronounced tension in my faith. For example, prior to my ordination as a United Methodist clergy, I felt a call from God to write. Then and now writing signifies an essential aspect of my relationship with the Holy. But I’ve been rejected so many times . . . and the only book I’ve published is self-published. (I mutter and grind teeth when I declare this.) Are my faithful expectations met by writing without ever being traditionally published or are they dashed because mainstream presses have always said, “No, we don’t love your work. Sorry.”
What about you? Do you experience a tension with expectations?
And birthday-wise, whether four or four score and more candles, whatever our wishes before blowing out the candles doesn’t hold a candle to the expectation of light, a divine spark, flickering even in the gloomiest Advent night . . .
Please God, help me have expectations for what I might learn rather than what I should get. (And please help me listen to my own prayer!)