Summary: Expectations are an essential part of life. The good news of Jesus' birth fills us with hopeful expectations.
We've been waiting for what seems like a long time now, at least for the children. The presents have been under the tree for days and maybe weeks. Will it ever come? “We can't wait!” We've heard children say that again and again, haven't we? But there is good news for you, children. It's almost here! Only two shopping days left, only three more days until Christmas is here! We can hardly wait!
Christmas, I think, is all about waiting, waiting with eager expectation. “Expectation” means that we are eagerly looking forward to something—hopefully something that promises good things to come for us. If we are expecting bad things to come, it fills us, instead, with a sense of dread. There are those for whom Christmas is more an expectation that brings about a sense of dread than of eager expectation. I think of the homeless, the hungry, the depressed, the weary. I think of those whose lives are dominated by hurt and anger and resentment from relationships broken and from love denied or betrayed. And I think of those whose lives have become disrupted and disjointed by war or terror.
For most of us life brings some mixture of dread, or at least anxiety, and eager expectation. It's the things we dread that call into question the meaning and even the worth of our lives. And sometimes it's not so much a matter of actual dread, but more a matter of simple boredom that threatens life's meaning and worth. We need to have something that we're looking forward to, something we are hoping for, if life is to have joy. It seems that God created us to need times of expectation to give meaning to our lives.
So what is it that you are waiting for? For Christmas to come? For presents to open? For family gatherings? For that bountiful holiday meal? In no time at all those will all have become memories, and we will be turning to other expectations—a New Year's Eve party, a special winter outing, the warmth of home on a stormy winter day. And then before we know it we will be looking forward to spring, to Good Friday, and the celebration of Easter. What an abundance of expectations lie before us! We who worship the Christ-child, born in Bethlehem's stable, are blessed with a wealth of expectations, surprises that are worth waiting for, hoping for, joys that linger long after Christmas.
Let's listen to what the prophet Isaiah was looking forward to, waiting for, eagerly anticipating. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,..and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding...He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
It was not a happy time for the people of Israel. The Assyrians were encamped right across the border, ready to pounce and destroy Jerusalem, carrying the people away into captivity. That glorious tree that had been Israel under King David is now about to be reduced to a stump. In that context of despair Isaiah looks for something surprising to grow out of that stump. What was he waiting for, in his time? What expectations did he have for that child who, we now know, was born in Bethlehem's stable?
Isaiah paints a vivid picture of what he was waiting for. He was looking for the coming of some One who would be filled with the Spirit of God and therefore full of counsel and divine might, of knowledge and understanding, who would put an end to all wickedness by his coming. Two things would characterize this special One: righteousness and faithfulness. “He will not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear,” writes Isaiah, “but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
Righteousness in the Old Testament always refers to making sure that the poor and the meek get their share. That doesn't happen much in the world as we know it, but that is Isaiah's eager expectation as he envisions the coming of the Messiah. “Righteousness will be the girdle of his waist.” The poor will be fully provided for, and those who cannot speak for themselves will have their needs taken care of. The wicked, who wantonly take advantage of the poor and the weak, will no more be found in the land.
And faithfulness: all this will come about, according to Isaiah's expectation and vision, because “faithfulness shall be the girdle of his loins.” Faithfulness has to do with sticking with the agenda to the very end, no matter what comes. But it's not just his own agenda that this One is faithful to—it's God's agenda that he sticks with, God's agenda for righteousness and justice for everyone in the world. Sticking with it, we now know, even to that very end—of death by crucifixion.