Expectations with Strings Attached
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 21, 2014
St. Mark's, Charleston
II Samuel 7:1-11,16
Expectations often come with strings attached. That is, our expectations tend to include assumptions about how those expectations will be realized.
This past week, Annie and I travelled to Edenton, North Carolina, to visit our son and his family. On Monday we celebrated the birthday of one of our granddaughters. Then, on Tuesday, we went to a community theater production, in which our ten-year-old grandson played a part. Let me clarify that a bit. He stole the show!
Immediately after this production, considerable discussion followed about appropriate expectations for this child prodigy. In fact, once we were identified as his grandparents, various members of the audience offered opinions to us, in terms of expectations. Some mentioned schools and additional training opportunities, while others simply suggested particular theaters on Broadway as possible sites for future productions. Thus, I repeat my initial observation. Expectations often come with strings attached.
In our First Reading this morning, we heard of expectations held by both David and Nathan. To his credit, David recognized the discrepancy between the value of his own dwelling and that of the holy site of the ark of the Lord. That is, the ark – symbolizing God’s presence – was in a tent, while David lived in a fine house. Therefore, David expected – and assumed – that a proper house would be suitable for the ark of the Lord.
In response to this statement of expectation, the prophet Nathan clearly agreed. Nathan said to David, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you” (II Sam 7:3). Thus, both David and Nathan assumed that their expectation would be appropriate.
However, in that assumption, they were challenged. We read that God came to Nathan in a dream and redirected those expectations. In the dream, God recites the history of His presence with the ark, and God recalls that He has not complained about the lack of a house. In fact, God indicates that He actually will accomplish the construction that needs to take place. As we read, “Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (7:11b, 16). Thus, previous expectations are corrected, and assumptions are challenged, by God Himself.
Then, our Gospel reading describes a scene with expectations and assumptions probably beyond comparison. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces to this young woman the part she will play in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Imagine that! And, then, Gabriel leaves Mary to deal with this announcement herself … and, also, to deal with all of the expectations and assumptions that others will have.
By the way, this very dilemma describes the focus of the play I mentioned earlier. That play – “Good Tidings of Great Joy” – did a good job of questioning the expectations of Mary’s parents, Joseph, and Mary herself, as well as challenging the assumptions of each of them. Of course, while the play did a good job in this task, it goes without saying that a certain actor was great!
It certainly is true that the expectations and assumptions which resulted from the scene of our Gospel reading must have been varied and wide-spread. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine their variety and complexity. Once again, then, expectations come with strings attached.
As we continue to deal with that observation, we arrive next at the focus of Advent expectation. Since Jesus has already come to earth as a baby, what we await is his return as the King of creation. This event sometimes is called “The Second Coming of Christ.” And that event will be the fulfillment of our Advent expectation.
Yet, even if we can agree on that expectation for Advent, what are our assumptions regarding the event itself? What strings are attached to the expectation of Christ’s Second Coming?
From our Old Testament heritage, various signs and wonders become part of the expectation – and some of those are indeed frightening! The end of time is associated with Christ’s return, and images tied to that end indicate circumstances which seem to be out of control.
However, please realize that is not the point – precisely not the point. Christ’s Second Coming is all about who is in control. God will be in control, without a doubt. Christ will be King of creation. Therefore, things then will be out of our control. But, that is a good thing because the One who cares for us and who loves us beyond measure will be in control. Thus, it is with confidence that we pray for Christ’s return, for we will then be clearly and finally and completely in God’s hands. Our expectation is that all creation will then be fulfilled. Therefore, in hope and with great expectation, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (BCP, p364). Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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