What Do You Expect?
Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday). Fr Mark Edney reminds us that the true God, unlike our false gods, always exceeds our expectations.
Our gospel reading is about expectations that go unstated. Also about greater expectations than any of us can really imagine. Well, what did you expect? Is John, the forerunner of the Christ, having doubts? Not the doubts of an unbeliever. The doubts of someone who believes in Jesus but who is perplexed by him; a perplexity that even we Christians often share!
From his prison cell, John seeks a word of assurance, asking, ‘are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ John might have expected a straightforward reply. We always want clear-cut answers. But as so often in the gospels when Jesus is interrogated, the reply seems to beg the question. ‘Go and tell John?the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the good news is preached to the poor.’ Jesus would seem to be saying, what more do you expect of the one who is to come?
Jesus’s words are never merely flippant. As our first reading from the prophet Isaiah reminds us, the Jesus’s healing and preaching ministry is exactly what the people might have expected from a visitation of their God. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. So why does John, this last and greatest of the prophets, like many other believers since, remain so perplexed by the Christ?
The gospels do not tell us what more John the Baptist expected to see in Jesus as it often goes unstated in the secret of our hearts what more we expect from our God.
Where God is concerned our expectations are often too small. Jesus explains this a few verses along in the Gospel of Matthew. ‘For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”‘
What should a prophet of God be like? How should a holy man behave? With whom should he associate? What do we expect of the Christ? What kind of God is our God? The answers are many but one thing is sure: God can’t win for losing when we try to fit him into our expectations.
I have never had much time for those who claim that God is only a projection of our minds. An invented god would always be less than, not greater than, we could imagine. No one would invent a God in the arms of a virgin mother, in a roughly hewn cave, in an obscure part of Palestine! Despite all the domesticated depictions of the nativity, the full scandal of the Incarnation remains the way it confounds our — anybody’s — expectations. The Almighty has for us become one with us in Christ!
Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say, ‘Divinity comes where you least expect to find it’. They never find it, never see it, who cannot look beyond the limits of their limited expectations. God is always greater than our imagination. Or were you expecting something or someone less this Advent?