As you know, Advent is a time of expectation of Christmas and all that it means to us. I know I expect a certain feeling—a sense of joy and peace to be the result of my celebrations and reflections. When I reflect on the thousands of years leading up to Christ’s birth, I am grateful to have been born after the Incarnation, rather than before it. I think of how difficult and painful it must have been for the people of God to wait day in, day out, generation after generation to be rescued from the oppression they faced. I contemplate what a beautiful and powerful thing it is that God himself would break into our broken history and redeem the world through his great sacrifice.
However, we also know that Christ’s coming was not what anyone expected. A poor baby, whose conception was by all appearances scandalous, and whose birth was surrounded by animals. With 2000 years of hindsight and Scripture to tell us the story, we can forget that to most people (with the exception of those who received special messages from the Lord), Jesus’ birth definitely did not meet their expectations and did not immediately bring them joy and peace. They struggled to believe. They struggled to understand how this could possibly be God’s plan.
To be honest, I am sympathetic this Advent with the people of Israel in their struggle to believe. I have been burdened by the weight of the brokenness of the world we live in and by what feels like increased violence in our cities and in those around the globe. I have been disappointed by the way that my ministry has not been what I expected. I have been discouraged when there was low attendance at our youth program and when attendance dropped off altogether and when it feels like no matter how much I give of myself it is not enough. I struggle to believe that this could be God’s best for me. Didn’t he call me to this? Didn’t he promise to work all things for my good? Why is it so hard? This isn’t what I expected in ministry. I tell myself that this can’t be the way that God works.
And yet, it is precisely the way that God works and is working. He is teaching me that his ways are not my ways. His time is not my time. I am learning that perhaps it is my expectations that are damaging my relationship with him. Instead of waiting in wonder and anticipation to watch as he unfolds the story according to his plan, I am disappointed and angry and bitter when he doesn’t do things according to my plans. As I reflect on the birth of Christ this Advent season, my prayer is that the Lord would change my expectations. May I watch and wait and listen as He comes into the world and into my life in ways I could never have expected, but that are far better than I could have hoped.
Mary Cooper (MATL ’15) serves at 441 Ministries, a re-neighboring ministry comprised of a meal program, nutrition/cooking classes, Bible studies, a weekly kids club, and Narcotics Anonymous out of Grace Church in Rochester, N.Y.