Sunday 11 December 2022 Advent 3
Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Context: a ‘typical suburban parish’, highly international with a large proportion of families. The homily is to be preached at all three weekend Masses – some of which are chaotic, noisy affairs
Aim: to invite listeners to reflect on their experience of expectation and disappointment in the run-up to Christmas and to see in Christ the one who fulfils our hopes and longings
Advent is a time of Expectation and a time of expectations. There is a difference between those two things.
Advent is a time of Expectation because all around us there is this sense that we’re getting ready for something special and important. I know it can be busy and stressful, but at what other time of year are we as likely to be generous to those in need? At what other time of year are we as likely to get back in touch with family and friends, especially those we haven’t seen for a while? At what other time of year do we feel the need to be at rights with those around us – if not extending the hand of friendship to those we’ve fallen out with, at least retracting for a day or two the fist of hate? Our consciences become much more easily pricked, we know it’s supposed to be the season of goodwill, and as Christmas draws ever closer, we give each other a bit more leeway. No one really minds if the teachers put on a movie the last day of term or if the kids are late to bed. There is this sense that this is not an ordinary time and although there might be a lack of focus as to the ‘real meaning of Christmas,’ there is still a sense of joyful expectation.
However, Advent is also a time of expectations – and these are different things entirely. We can have enormous and unrealistic expectations of others and of ourselves, and we feel the pressure of others’ expectations of us. We can feel that things have to be right, whether it’s to do with presents, food and drink, the managing of difficult relatives, or getting through Christmas without a loved one. Sometimes those expectations can weigh very heavily on our shoulders – and so it’s no wonder that for some, the run up to Christmas can be a bit of an endurance test – and that’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be like that.
Jesus also had to deal with both Expectation and expectations. For years and years, the people of Israel had longed for the coming of a saviour. The prophets had spoken about his coming, and when Jesus arrived, those who heard who he was were tremendously excited. Simeon in the Temple, who’d not see death until he set eyes on the chosen one, Anna who spoke of the child to everyone she met, the ‘Three Kings’ who found in Jesus the king they were searching for, and John the Baptist, who called Jesus the ‘one who is to come.’ There was such great expectation – but in order for those who waited for his coming to truly welcome Jesus they had to let go of their own preconceptions as to the kind of messiah that he would be, and the kind of kingdom that he would establish. Even his closest disciples had quite a learning curve, as they expected Jesus would become an earthly king and that they would have a place in his kingdom. Some disciples never made the curve, like Judas whose betrayal of Jesus was arguably more out of disappointment than malice. Jesus disappointed an awful lot of people who had their own rather narrow expectations of him, but for those who were prepared to let go of their expectations, their lives were changed for ever.
For ourselves, as Christmas approaches, we too are invited to do the same. Sometimes we can have a very set idea of what Christmas should be like. For example, I always used to think that it wasn’t Christmas unless Christmas dinner included bread sauce and brandy butter. It didn’t matter what else was being served – it could have been pizza and chips, but if there wasn’t bread sauce and brandy butter, Christmas was ruined. I wonder what our brandy butter is? I wonder what our bread sauce is? What expectations do we load upon ourselves, upon our children, upon our parents, our husbands and wives and partners?
At the end of the day, if we can let go of our own narrow expectations, we can enjoy the great expectation of Christ’s coming. For it is not us who makes Christmas come. No matter how hard we work or don’t work, no matter how organised or disorganised we are, no matter how tidy or messy our lives are, Christ desires to enter your life and my life, if we open our hearts to him. When we listen to his words and follow his example, when we try to look at others with his compassion, then we will find a joy and hope that exceeds all our expectations.
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