Advent 1: Hopefully Expectant of the Unexpected

UnknownIt’s that time of year, the Advent-Christmas season. Advent simply means ‘coming’, as in the coming of Christ. I am personally excited about this time of year, as we look to remember the coming of Christ into the world. Not just as a nice little story for children, but something that changed everything forever. Everything! Forever!

You see, long ago, the prophets foretold of one who would come. This special one would be God’s anointed Messiah bringing righteousness, justice and peace to God’s people and the world. He would reign as king and deliver us from sin. He would be Immanuel, God with us.

That’s simply enough to ponder for the rest of our lives.

At Cornerstone, we have 4 specific themes we want to recall during the Advent season:

1) Theme of Anticipation
2) Theme of Announcement
3) Theme of Arrival
4) Theme of Affection

When you think of anticipation, what comes to mind?

Anticipation

The word hope comes to mind for me.

When you anticipate something, you have a hopeful expectation. Now, many times, the word hope can carry the meaning of uncertainty.

I hope this happens, but I’m not sure.

And, thinking about the coming of God’s Messiah, his Son, it’s quite likely the questions began to arise for the Jewish people of long ago. Is this thing really going to happen? Is the deliverer, the king, the descendant of David really going to arrive? We surely have been waiting a LONG time!

The church, God’s people, stands this side of the first Christ event (birth, life, death, resurrection & ascension) in anticipation and hope for his second coming. But it’s also been a long, long time. Sometimes questions can arise. And God is not afraid of our questions. The Scripture helps us see this. We might not get all the answers – like when is it going to exactly take place. But, as a friend of mine wrote in one worship song, all our questions are answered in his presence.

Not that he literally gives us the answer like, ‘Mark this date on your calendar. And this is how it will exactly play out.’ But to be in his presence, to hear his voice, to taste and see that he is good, we find our hope renewed. Something like what the psalmist expressed here: Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him (Ps 62:5). The questions are ‘answered’ by our hope being renewed as we rest in him.

And, actually, the more biblical sense of the word hope communicates certainty. We stand on a sure foundation, and where our footing is a bit loose, God is continuing to establish us upon an unshakable kingdom foundation (for example, note Heb 12:26-29).

So, as the well-known words come forth in Isaiah 40:31, we will have our strength renewed as we hope in, or wait upon, the Lord – but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.

Back to that time long ago…

As far as we can tell, there was a great and stirring anticipation for the Christ to come. Overall, the Jews of the first century had a high level of expectation and hope that the Messiah-Deliverer would come and would come soon. And he did, but in such an unexpected way. The expectation was right, the concepts weren’t always correct.

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope.

These are characteristics of God’s people. And as his people long ago awaited Christ’s arrival, so we too find ourselves awaiting. We are called to continue in the heritage of anticipation, expectation and hope.

But, what I’ve noticed about God’s coming (in all it’s varying ways), is that it shocks us a bit. I’m not into great predictions about the second coming of Christ. I think we can note a few things from Scripture. But, overall, the details are not so clear. Yet, what I expect, is that things won’t unfold exactly as we had once thought.

Yet, no matter how shocking or non-shocking his coming will be, the character of God’s people is to remain hopeful. Hopeful in a sure foundation that our God, Immanuel, will be with us. Fully at some point, but also very much in our world today. My hope ultimately rests in the reality that he will come, not how he will come.

We give gifts in this season of the year and we remember the greatest gift ever given. But God still desires to give gifts even today. I’m not even speaking of spiritual gifts like we normally classify them – prophecy, teaching, pastoring, leading, etc. I mean the little gifts that are everywhere we turn. For the psalmist says it best: Surely your goodness and love will follow after me all the days of my life (Ps 23:6).

But, as I have already noted, these little gifts will probably be quite unexpected. Yet we are to be hopefully expectant of the unexpected. Yes, that’s it! Hopefully expectant of the unexpected!

In the quietness of the morning dawn. In the stillness of lying in the snow. In the viewing of a Christmas film with our family. In the drinking of a cup of mulled wine. In the devotional reading of Scripture before we turn the light out at night. In the drive to the office. In each of these, God will invest little gifts in our lives, ones he invites us to unwrap to get a better sense of what he is gifting us with. Expect them, but it’s possible that we need to prepare just a bit to expect the unexpected.

Are you ready?

There was some sort of readiness 2000 years ago. But they weren’t fully ready. God, Immanuel, came in the form of a baby, in one who came out of despised Nazareth, one who by all means didn’t seem very Messiah-esque. But he was exactly whom the Son of God would be in the flesh, as a real human being. The greatest gift came unexpectedly in the midst of an ethos of anticipation and expectation. If it happened with the greatest gift, it just might happen with the little gifts of God today.

It’s Advent. It’s time to remember his coming. It’s time for him to come again this season.

Hopefully expect the unexpected.

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