When I was growing up, Christmas officially began on the night of 30th November. This was when my dad would go into the loft and bring down the advent calendar. This advent calendar was special because it was handmade by our family, and was made up of 24 pockets, each containing individual pieces of the nativity scene.
Every year we would debate which pieces would be placed into the numbered pockets so that they would then appear in the ‘right’ order, and more importantly, so that it was fair. One of the rules of the advent calendar was that, year on year, my brother and I would take it in turns to take out baby Jesus (because he was the most important) and, if we didn’t get to take out baby Jesus that year, we would at least get to take out two of the three wise men.
One of the other rules of the advent calendar was that baby Jesus had to come out last, on day 24. This led to a slightly skewed interpretation of the Christmas story where the shepherds and wise men would turn up to see Jesus, only to find they had to wait a few days for him to show up.
I love this picture because for me it speaks of expectation. Everything positioned perfectly, pointing towards a patch of straw, waiting for Jesus. For Him to be with them. In reality I don’t think that this particular scene is what they were expecting. But they were expecting someone who would change everything.
I think that when we are expectant of anything, we are on alert. When we are expectant of snow, we prepare for longer travel times, more layers of clothing and general chaos. When we are expectant of dinner, we notice how hungry we are, we think about what is in the fridge and the thought of takeaway might fly through our minds. And when we are expectant of Jesus? If you are anything like me, you might begin to tell God how and when He might like to show up…
‘Well God, I’d quite like it If you’d fix this, in this particular way, about now would be great… If that works for you…’
I find that sometimes I am only really alert to the ways in which I want Him to show up. But, what does it look like to be expectant of Jesus being with us without prescribing the how, when, where? And do we miss Him because He shows up in a way we just weren’t expecting.
This advent I want to broaden my expectations of Jesus being with us. For me, this means asking Him to show up and expecting He will. It means handing over control, resisting the urge to ‘prescribe’ and saying ‘have your way’.
We began 2016 by praying and listening into what God was saying to us about the vision and values for St Mark’s. We have been challenged to go out into our community as well as to be invitational (and to be encouraged by our ‘nos’). It seems that Christmas is a simple opportunity to be invitational, to share in the expectation and excitement of Jesus being with us.
I am guilty of being distinctly unexpectant when it comes to inviting my friends and family to know more about Jesus. I feel the need to control everything - I must find the perfect moment or the perfect event to share with them otherwise they won’t be interested. I feel the need to ‘wrap up’ who Jesus is to them because I think they need to hear it in a ‘fresh’ way.
I have been challenged over the past few weeks by these verses from 1 Corinthians 2:
1-2 You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.
3-5 I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else.
I think the reality of sharing Jesus is just as messy as the night He came into this world. God used a dirty stable to bring glory to Himself. God can use our bad timing, our failings, our messy lives to share who He is. He doesn’t need our eloquence and He doesn’t need us to ‘wrap up’ who He is. We can be assured that He will use our obedience, it is Him who does the work and His power that changes hearts. What a relief.
This advent I am challenged to expect the unexpected, to put to one side my preoccupation with how and where I might like Jesus to show up and be alert to where He already is and where He wants to go next.