First Sunday of Advent: "Great Expectations"
Read Matthew 24:36-44 NLT [SLIDES]
When Hannah Rose was in Denver for treatment of her eating disorder, we stayed in the Ronald McDonald House for a month. It was January, snowy, and COLD! After the first week we were there, Hannah Rose was allowed to live with us there.
She was receiving her assignments from Northpoint Christian School via email. One of her assignments was to read the classic 1860 novel by Charles Dickens, “Great Expectations.” We decided to read it as a family every night after a day of treatment.
The plot line is very long and complicated, so I’ll spare you the details. But it involves love, jealousy, greed, revenge, and even murder, but also unexpected kindness, repentance, and a few changed hearts. The underlying theme can be summed up in the word, “expectation:” what Pip, the main character, had for himself and the expectation others had of him.
In some ways, Great Expectation was analogous of our stay in Denver. We had great expectations for Hannah Rose’s recovery. Sadly, Hannah Rose had expectations of getting out of treatment so she could return to her eating disorder behaviors. Thankfully, the therapeutic and medical treatment were effective enough to help her see that there was a better life apart from her eating disorder.
Expectation can be either a positive or negative influence for each us. Positive, in that expectations can push us to be the best parent, sibling, friend, employee/employer, or even follower of Jesus.
But unrealistic or misguided expectations can cause us to compromise our integrity. They can be frustrating because we’re unable live up to other people’s expectations—either real or perceived.
We’re entering into a season when—perhaps more than any other time of the year—we have great and differing expectations. We expect for people to act civil in the long lines on Black Friday! We expect our families to come together in peace and harmony at least once a year. We expect our money to outlast our Christmas shopping list!
But what do we expect of God during this Advent season, and what does God expect of us? As John Bobb said earlier, the word “advent” means COMING. More than any other word in the English language, that word connotes expectation.
The people of Jesus’s time had expectations for their long-awaited Messiah. They were looking for a military and religious ruler who would lead the Jews out from under Roman oppression and restore the Kingdom of Israel to its rightful place among the nations. For the Jew, the national identity of Israel’s kingdom was synonymous with God’s Kingdom on earth.
But that was NOT Jesus came to do. Jesus came NOT to build a geographic, economic and political kingdom on earth, but to bring a heavenly kingdom down to earth. The world expected a military commander; Jesus came to become commander of our hearts…hearts filled with love for God and others. The Gospel of Peace was that Jesus came to end the hostility within each sin-sick human heart. And he did this NOT with a sword but with three nails on a cross. Jesus overcame sin and death through his own death and resurrection.
But before he was to be arrested, tried, convicted, and executed—all within a matter of hours—Jesus shares with his disciples what they should EXPECT following his death, resurrection, and ascension. They should EXPECT Jesus’s RETURN!
That’s the deal. We don’t celebrate Christmas every year so we can put Jesus back in a baby’s skin and lay him in a manger. We don’t need to rehearse this story for the sake of nostalgia, or in order to sing great carols like, “Silent Night” or “Away in a Manger.” No, we need to EXPECT MORE.
First, we must REMEMBER the WHY of his first coming—because we are totally incapable of saving ourselves. Because, without the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the shedding of his blood on Calvary, there can be no forgiveness of sin. Because he died and rose again from the dead, you and I can be in an intimate, personal, and eternal relationship with the God of the universe.
Second, we must EXPECT Jesus’s SECOND COMING—HIS SECOND ADVENT. As I love to say, “Jesus is coming back!” And this morning’s passage is ALL about Jesus coming back. And that’s GOOD NEWS! We are NOT a people without HOPE. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Because God put on flesh, bore our sin on the cross, and rose again, we have HOPE in our resurrection!
But our resurrection to eternal life is not complete until Jesus comes back and a New Heaven and New Earth are established. Only then will there be no more death, or sin, or weeping, or hunger, or disease. So, we have HOPE of Jesus’s return! We should therefore live in GREAT EXPECTATION!
It’s only natural to ask when that might be. The disciples surely wanted to know, and Jesus gave them a pretty direct answer: “I don’t even know. BUT BE READY!” Why? Because he will come like a thief in the night. If you know when your house is going to get broken into, you will be ready to defend it, right? So, we should be ready as if it could happen any night.
Watch. Be ready. Be alert. That’s the message of Jesus for those with great expectations. But how can we watch and be ready? First, we can repent and believe. We can ensure that we have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ through faith. We can give our hearts to Jesus so that He can rule over our lives.
Second, we can make Jesus Christ Lord and Ruler over our lives. We can become committed followers of Jesus. This begins and ends with LOVE. Jesus says that if we love Him, we will do what He says. And what he tells us is to show love one to another. If we love others as Christ loves us, then we will meet the GREAT EXPECTATION God has for us.
If we love as Christ loves, then we will tell others about how great our God is. We will invite others to taste and see. Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all peoples. And we won’t just “tell” them about God’s love, we will demonstrate God’s love through forgiveness, kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, faithfulness, self-control. Those sound an awful like the fruit of the Spirit! Yes, there will be evidence of our changed hearts being seen by those around us.
Christmas is a time when we show extra grace and generosity, especially to those who have so little. That’s a good thing. But that Christmas spirit should be demonstrated throughout the year.
Great Expectations…that’s what we should have for our Savior’s return. Hope for a life spent eternally with God in Paradise. But Jesus has great expectations for us: “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” AMEN.