All throughout the month of December, my mind has been on the hope and expectancy that the season of advent brings. I don’t think I have been as aware of those aspects of the season during any previous Christmas season as I have been this year. The sense of anticipation for what God wants to show up and do in my own life has been growing for months, and this season has heightened my awareness of that anticipation.
One major aspect of that anticipation which has come to mind repeatedly is the danger of expectations. I have written before about the difference between expectancy and expectations, but it is beautifully illustrated in the coming of Christ. God’s promises had been spoken through the prophets on so many occasions, and Israel’s sense of anticipation was high for the coming of the One Who would deliver them.
The children of Israel had expectations of this coming King of the Jews, and Jesus fulfilled few of them. Many of them didn’t recognize Him because He didn’t meet their expectations of a warrior and ruler who would free them from the oppressive government they lived under. Instead, their Savior was a baby born in a scandalous way and in a Bethlehem stable to poor nobodies from Nazareth of all places! “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
How many times have I been guilty of hearing God’s promises and then building my own expectations for what they will look like based (sometimes loosely) on His words? How often do I miss the fulfillments of God’s words in my own life because I am looking for my own idea of how He will bring them about? How many times have you done the same?
Yes, hope and expectancy are vital. As I have just been reminded throughout the advent season, God will show up in the midst of our circumstances. He is God with us, and we should live with a sense of anticipation for His coming every day – not just the coming that will bring with it an end to tears and pain and establish His Kingdom forever – but His appearance in our everyday, ordinary lives.
The danger of expectation is in painting our own picture of what His arrival will look like. The vision we end up with may be based on His words, but I have learned that my pictures are often far too small for Him to actually fit into. His ideas are so far beyond what my mind can come up with that my expectations are ridiculously small compared to what He has in mind – despite the fact that they feel nearly impossible to me!
In pondering Mary’s story over the last couple of weeks, God’s appearance in her circumstances must have seemed – in the natural, at least – more of a burden than an answer to her prayers. His arrival in her life meant a tarnished reputation, the responsibility of raising the Son of God, and eventually, watching her firstborn tortured and crucified. And yet, her response was immediate acceptance of God’s plan and a worship session.
As we enter into 2016 in a couple of days, think about the promises God has spoken to you or the areas of your life where you are still awaiting His arrival. Do you have a certain idea of what His appearance will look like in those situations? Will you recognize Him if He appears in a different way than you expect? Will you respond with acceptance and worship no matter what His coming means for you?
I hope my answer to those final two questions is yes. Today, I am surrendering the expectations I’ve built of what His coming and His promises fulfilled will look like in my life, and I am choosing to live with a sense of hope and expectancy for His vision instead.