Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time to develop our patience. James instructs us in his letter to the Church, “Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” (James 5,7f) As we are waiting we often develop expectations of what will happen once the time of waiting is over. Usually our expectations run along the line of finally receiving something that we have desired and requested from someone. During this time of preparation for Christmas people are making their Christmas lists and asking us what we might like to receive for Christmas. We look into our hearts and examine our desires and we express our hopes of receiving something we have set our hearts on. Our expectations grow as we see the presents begin to pile up under the tree. Will we soon have what our hearts desire? Before anyone asked us we never really thought much about what we might like to have for Christmas but now that someone has asked and we have expressed our needs we begin to have the expectation that we will receive what we have hoped for. We begin to look for signs that what we have asked for is about to be given.
It is wonderful that we have people in our lives that would like to give us gifts. It is a blessing that we have people that want to express their love and appreciation for us. There are many ways that they can make their appreciation known. When we develop strong expectations sometimes it narrows down the way in which we might interpret someone’s gift. We might become so attached to our desires and so set on getting one special gift that we fail to see the value of the gift that is given to us. If the gift does not meet our expectations then we can become disappointed and even a little bitter over not getting what we expected. We fail to see the love that has been offered and expressed in the gift that has been given.
In the prophet Isaiah we see that beautiful promise of God to come to save his people and bring healing, gladness and everlasting joy. These are the expectations that we can have of God. When the Lord comes he will bring healing, gladness and joy. John the Baptist was well acquainted with the prophesies of Isaiah. In the gospel of Matthew, we find John imprisoned by Herod and beginning to question his expectations based upon what he has heard about the works of Jesus. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus directly, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” (Mt 11,3) Jesus responds by pointing out the healing, gladness and joy that are the fruits of his work. John will know by this that his hopes have been fulfilled and he has finished his work.
Jesus then questions the people about their expectations of John the Baptist. He asks them, “What did you go out to the desert to see?” (Mt 11,7) What were the expectations of the people around the ministry of John? Perhaps the wildness of John was a bit much for the people and they didn’t know what to make of his being in prison. Jesus points out that John was a prophet and indeed was the greatest of all prophets. He then adds that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Our expectations should not be for this world only for our true greatness will only be seen in the kingdom of heaven. Our expectations for heaven should far exceed anything that we have encountered here on earth.
Advent is a time of patient waiting and our celebration of Gaudete Sunday reminds us that we are to “wait in joyful hope” for the coming of the Lord. Our hope should not be an anxious hope which is uncertain and questioning, constantly being examined in light of our limited understanding, vision and expectations in this world. We trust that God will fulfill every promise to us and if things are not meeting our expectations it is because God has something far greater planned for us in his kingdom. Pope Francis has reminded us in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that the gospel of the Lord is a joyous gift of God and that we are called to share the good news of the gospel in joy.
Let us rejoice always that God has chosen to bless us with gifts of love that we are called to share with one another in love and that he hasn’t merely catered to our selfish expectations. The gift of the Christ child is for all people and he who brings us healing, gladness and joy will be our peace. Let us then be patient and share our joy with one another as true heralds and prophets of joy.