Fr. Charles Irvin
We live in expectancies; our lives are filled with them. We have expectations of being promoted, of raising our income, of traveling, of retiring, and so forth. We have great expectations of our husbands and great expectations of our wives. There is no more fertile of a field leading to divorce than that of our expectations of each other.
We have great hopes and high expectations of our children. Sometimes we even experience vicarious feelings of success when they succeed. And sometimes we experience terrible feelings of loss and inferiority when they don’t.
We live expecting our doctors to perform miracles of healing. We expect our doctors to save us from death, however inevitable it may be. We expect to be indemnified for each and every loss; we have zero tolerance for any loss, even those that are clearly accidental. Someone, somewhere, somehow must be sued and we must be made whole either through insurance indemnification or legal litigation for every loss we’ve suffered. Any loss, anything short of our expectations of perfection, is intolerable for us… and somebody else must pay.
And our Church? What expectations do we have of her? What are the expectations we place on our priests, on the non-ordained lay persons who have devoted their lives in full-time careers in pastoral ministry or in parish work? I know (believe me, I know full well!) that parishioners expect nothing less that absolute competence and total ability to administratively handle each and every aspect of parish life as well as to be totally available all of the time while spending their days in prayer, reflection and meditation. [That’s quite a job description!]
And, here in Advent, as we look forward toward Christmas, we look forward to the advent of God, the coming of God, into our lives. We dream of an ideal Christmas; we plan on being spiritually prepared to celebrate, on Christmas day, the birth of Christ. Perhaps we even have some reveries about attending Christmas Midnight Mass.
Please note that so far I have been speaking, for the most part, of the expectations WE have of others. But great expectations run on a two-way street. What are the expectations that run from others to you? When was the last time you paid serious attention, more than simply a fleeting recognition, of the expectations others have of you?
AND…. when was the last time you paid serious attention to the expectations God has of you? For God does have great expectations of you. They are expressed in the Ten Commandments, in the Beatitudes, and in the words of Jesus.
As far as I know, the Commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, for one instance, has not been turned into a Suggestion or a Guideline. The Commandments have not been recalled by God and then renegotiated as the Ten Guidelines, or the Ten Suggestions. Worshipping God at Mass on Sunday remains of obligation as far as I’ve been told. Additionally, Jesus expects us to have a special interest in the poor, a “preferential option for the poor” as the Church puts it. And Christ expects us to have a consistent ethic of life, a respect for life from womb to tomb that is consistent and part of a seamless garment. Also, attention to the common good we all share is another of God’s expectations of us, this in spite of our culture’s exaltation of individualism and self-autonomy. Christianity is nothing unless it is a communally shared faith lived out in actions, not merely in words.
God does have expectations of us. Jesus Christ was born among us, suffered terribly and died an agonizing death on the Cross not to hand heaven to us on a silver platter, free of obligations. We still have things to do, expectations to meet, obligations to discharge. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and give us a plastic credit card with an unlimited account requiring nothing of us in return. The last time I checked, I didn’t find that salvation is automatic and that God has canceled His expectations of us.
Advent is a time of expectations; living life is living in response to a whole lot of expectations imposed on us by others and by ourselves. Every relationship we have with anyone is composed of expectations. And so is our relationship with God.
Perhaps we could make this Advent different from all other Advents we have experienced in the past. Perhaps we could pass through this Advent thinking each day of what God expects of us. And perhaps then we could arrive at Christmas and celebrate
Christ’s birth again in living out our great expectations, those we place on others and on God, and in living up to their expectations and God’s expectations of us. Should we do that, we would truly be preparing for a genuine exchange of gifts at Christmas. We would really have something, then, to give to Jesus on the occasion of the celebration of His birth among us.
Perhaps it might even be a celebration of His rebirth within our souls.