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What Do You Expect?


I'm thinking this young fellow is expecting someone to come along to play with him - what do you think? Or maybe he's expecting a parent to drive up to take him home. Or perhaps he's expecting the ice cream truck to make an appearance on his street. So many possible expectations! Even if he is just hoping for something, his face bears the look of longing, doesn't it?

There are two occasions I remember being asked about my expectations. One was on the phone with my mother many years ago. She was in weary tears because she had for so long met everyone else's expectations. "I just don't know what you expect of me..." she sputtered with a wobbly voice before hanging up the phone. It was an unsettling moment for me, but also one that helped me realize the weight our mother had been carrying for decades on end. It sparked a shift in my understanding of her which led to a shift in my relationship with her. The other occasion, also years ago, was during a conversation with a man I had started dating. He was recently divorced and wary of women's expectations. When he asked me about mine, I told him I could only expect what he promised.

It seems to me that is what makes an expectation different from a hope. A customer service representative tells you that you will receive a response within 48 hours; you expect that response within that time frame. A friend coming for a visit reports an arrival time within an hour; you turn on the coffee pot and begin your vigil at the window. When something is promised or pledged, an expectation is created. Most everything else is in the category of hope which we all know is a cousin to wishful thinking.

What are you expecting these days? What are others in your life expecting from you this season? If there's any sense in which you are a person who prays, what sort of divine response or answer are you expecting? Or do you wonder if it's all just wishful thinking that some "higher power" hears you, pays attention to you, cares about you, and will bother to address your needs?

It is the crux of this season that we celebrate a God who bothered to come among us to address the deepest needs of humankind. What we may struggle with is whether Jesus' birth only made a difference a couple of thousand years ago. What do we expect of a savior today? Or do we expect anything at all?

The longings haven't lessened. For peace. For safety. For help. For acceptance. For comfort. For love. What do we do with these deep needs? Do we really expect the Lord of the universe to give a whit about us and to respond to us in all our messy humanity? Robert Capon makes a prickly point with his words, "The human race is, was, and probably always will be deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. We don't want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. It's not that we weren't looking for the Messiah; it's just that he wasn't what we were looking for." Yet Jesus is what God promised. The God who said: "I am the Lord your God, your savior... you are precious in my eyes... don't fear, I am with you." (Isaiah 43:3-5), words echoed by Jesus as he promises, "I won't leave you as orphans. I will come to you." (John 14:18). What more could we expect?

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