Message: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 3/15 Luke 1:46-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
It seems that when we know what’s expected of us we tend to respond better; go about the task with more confidence; honor the expectations of others; find the road to success with greater assurance. In an effort to fulfill the expectations placed upon us, experts tell us we use more brain power. More simply, in achieving expectations, we believe we’re smart. Expectations are put upon us because we’re valued, we matter, we’re worth it. With high expectations set before us we tend to rise to the occasion and the results of achieving the expectations are transformative, while at the same time humbling.
The season of Advent is a period of expectation. We wait and watch in joyful expectation for the coming of Christ to be born into our lives once again. This morning, as we turn the corner on Advent IV and rush into Christmas, perhaps we can look back with hope onto the future and ask the question, “what does God expect of me?”
Mary’s pregnant pause of preparing gives us an idea of the high expectations God has for Mary and for us. Young Mary, is expected to carry out the royal line, as she is betrothed to Joseph. Joseph, we’re told in Matthew’s gospel, comes from the same lineage as royal King David. With blue blood running through his veins, the expectation for Joseph is pretty high when the angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream to set him straight about his role. He changes his course of action, which is to divorce himself from the arranged marriage, and obediently follows the angel’s instructions. Joseph goes about to fulfill the expectations of serving as a partner to Mary in parenting her newborn child.
We know very little of Mary’s lineage other than she is a young maiden, a virgin, with little to no life experience. Basically, Mary is doing what’s expected of her. As is the custom, she and Joseph will marry. What’s not expected is a visit from an angel.
Immediately upon showing up on the doorstep, the angel delivers the message setting a course for Mary that changes her life forever. God deems Mary as God’s favored one. Mary’s confused about what it means to be God’s favored one. The angel reassures her that God is blessing her. Mary can expect to become pregnant through the gift of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and he will be great and be called the Son of the Most High, the Son of God and he will be holy. For Mary, she is willing to honor God’s expectations while at the same time she is perplexed by the largeness of the expectation.
I wonder, do we expect angels to deliver messages from God? How often do we truly expect God as an active agent in our lives? These days, it seems more often than not, we don’t set our expectations too high when it comes to God breaking through into our lives. We tend to expect God is taking a back seat; God is at a distance. So much of what we expect of God’s favor today is a life of prosperity, comfort, and pleasure. But, we learn through the saving grace of Jesus Christ that God’s expectations for us are not so much prosperity, comfort and ease as they are a road of deep faithfulness, humbly following Christ as a daily walk in our lives.
A life with Christ can often not be what we expect. Mary, pondering what God expects of her, trusting in the activity of God, she willingly accepts the assignment. The assignment is no easy task. Shortly following Jesus’ birth, Mary must trust in God as she and Joseph escape with Jesus to Egypt for fear of king Herod’s death threats. As he grows, and throughout Jesus’ public ministry Mary must take a back seat, as she is left to go deeper in trusting in God the Father. Mary will witness Jesus as a young child already about his Father’s business, overriding her authority. She’s expected to widen her understanding of family as Jesus teaches the definition of family as those believers in God. She’ll do the hardest thing any parent ever has to do as she buries her child. She’ll stand by his empty tomb in wonder and rejoice at God’s greatness in resurrecting Jesus. Long after Jesus is dead, buried, resurrected and ascended, Mary is among the faithful in prayer awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit to descend upon them just as promised by Jesus.
What does Mary expect? Does she expect to be without hurt and pain? It seems not. It seems that Mary expects God to expect her to be faithful. God expects a lot from Mary and Mary delivers.
What does God expect? Does God expect us to swallow this story of the Annunciation? The announcement of angels and a young virgin and royal thrones and obedience to the point of ridiculousness? Yes! Why? Not because the story is a scientific miracle. Nor is the story a historical fact. If we’re looking down those rabbit holes we’ve got a ways to go. God expects us to take hold of the mystery and wonder of Mary’s annunciation as truth because this is how God has chosen to tell us about who God is for us. Our God bursts into our lives where we least expect it; delivering messages of hope; and the promise of everlasting love.
What does God expect of us? With holy fear and wonder, to believe in a wondrous God who comes as a newborn babe to live as one of us to redeem us, save us, fulfill in us God’s expectations for God’s world to be known is what God expects of us. God knows the challenges we face in our post Christian culture. Living faithfully as true followers of God in Christ these days is optional. We can choose to live up to the expectations of God, or not. This Advent IV, as Christmas awaits, perhaps now is the time to hold the expectation of God in Christ before ourselves.
Now is the time to follow Mary’s good words, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Favored ones, may our Christmas birth in us a new obedience to the expectation God has for us: a faithfulness in Christ that takes us to our knees in prayer, that journeys us like Mary onto roads of deep trust in times of doubt; that demands belief and bold proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord of All. God expects that we embrace the blessing of God in Christ upon us; that we live holy expectant, actively waiting for God to enter into our lives with purpose and promise. May this Christmas gift for each of us a season of a most holy life with God in Christ. Merry Christmas!