Hope for the Expectant

Dr. Eric Radecki - 12/29/2019

Merry Christmas! Was Christmas all you had hoped and expected?





Christmas is all about expectation. 

I remember my expectation for Christmas as a 4 year old. My dad had left my mom earlier that year, but came to visit for Christmas. He had promised me and my brother that he would take us to Disney World. So I have this image in my mind’s eye of us sitting on the porch steps with our knap sacks packed and ready to go, fully expecting him to take us to Disney World. But that’s not what happened. He had a short visit, and then he was gone. I had no idea if Disney was 15 minutes away, let alone 15 hours away, and no concept of what it might cost. But as a little 4 year old, I was crushed. My expectations left me disappointed.

A few years later I had gotten it into my head that we could have a horse in our back yard. Did we live on a farm? Nope. Neighborhood full of houses. Modest backyard. But in my childhood brain I had reasoned that a fence around the yard and the shed converted into a stable would make our yard completely horse compatible. Imagine my amazement when my mom and step-dad loaded me and my brother up in the back of the pick up truck (it was safe to ride in the back of a pick up truck in the 70s), and we went driving out into the country. My heart was racing. I just knew that we were on our way to a horse farm to get my horse! I told my brother as we were riding along, “This is it! We’re getting a horse!” It seemed completely plausible that we would carry a horse back to our house in the bed of our pick up truck. We did in fact arrive at a farm. As we jumped out of the pick up truck and followed our parents up to the farm house, we walked around the side of the house and my mom pointed out a little Collie-St. Bernard puppy and told me she was mine. I named her Sugar. I never gave another thought to that horse (except when it came time to clean up the dog piles in the yard, and I was grateful). Sugar was my childhood companion from then and through my college days, and needless to say she surpassed all of my expectations. 

We’re still in the season of Christmas, and in the traditional Christian Year calendar, Epiphany is coming up on January 6. We just came through the season of Advent, which if you know just a little about Advent, then my guess is you know probably less about Epiphany. Epiphany is that time to celebrate the anointing of Christ; recognition of his deity. An important holy day today, and especially in the early church when the deity of Christ was being challenged by heretics suggesting that Christ was only partially god, not god at all, or something less than god. So Epiphany highlights primarily the visit of the Magi to the young Jesus, and Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. 

John had some expectations for Jesus, and his experience with Jesus can help us as disciples. In Luke 3 we find John performing water baptism for the forgiveness of sins. He quotes Isaiah 40, claiming to be an agent of preparation for the coming Messiah who would… 

• Raise up the valleys, bring low the mountains (sounds like some of that Daniel talk)

• Straighten the crooked, smooth out the rough

• And everyone will see the salvation of God

In fact, while John is preaching, Jesus approached and John stopped to recognize him: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and then John baptized Jesus. I love this story because it’s one of the few narratives recorded in Scripture—Old and New Testaments—when all 3 persons of the Godhead are present: the audible voice of the Father affirming the Son in the flesh, and the Spirit descending on Jesus in the visible form of a dove. Amazing. One of my favorite texts. 

We move into Luke 4 and Jesus spends the next 40 days being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. After that, Jesus moves on to Nazareth his hometown. Here is where we find Jesus teaching from the scroll in the Nazarene synagogue, the text Jon has been exposing for us the last few weeks. In the synagogue that day, Jesus reads from Is 61… 

• The Spirit is upon me to…

• Preach good news to the poor

• Proclaim release to the captives

• Restore sight to the blind

• Set free the oppressed

• Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

After he finished reading, Jesus has the audacity to say, “It’s me. I’m the one this Scripture is referring to. I’m here now!” 

So to put this all in a broader context, and summing up the next couple chapters in Luke… 

• In Luke 3 John the Baptist boldly proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, Luke establishes Jesus’ lineage including King David all the way back to Adam

• In Luke 4 Satan tries, and fails, to tempt Jesus away from fulfilling his calling as Messiah; Jesus publicly declares himself to be the Messiah in his hometown synagogue and gets into some trouble for doing so; Jesus casts out an unclean Spirit who calls Jesus the Holy One of God; Jesus heals Simon’s mother and others in Capernaum, and casts out demons who call him the Son of God

• In Luke 5 Jesus invites his first disciples; Jesus heals a leper and a lame man, and gets himself in trouble with the religious leaders because he also claims he can forgive sins

• In Luke 6 Jesus gets in more trouble with the religious leaders (Luke 6); calls his 12 apostles; and teaches a whole lot of new stuff

• In Luke 7 Jesus heals the centurion’s servant and brings a widow’s son back to life—boom!

That lands us in the middle of Luke 7. All of this activity and acknowledgement of who Jesus is… that he is who he and others claim him to be, the Son of God, the Messiah, the one promised to bring peace, and justice, and to ascend to the throne… and John the Baptist once again proclaims: “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” No, he doesn’t. In truth, he sends messengers to Jesus to ask a question: “Are you the one we have been expecting, or should we expect someone else?” 

In fairness to John, he had been imprisoned by the sicko king Herod, and was eventually beheaded to appease Herod’s lust for his own niece (yeah gross). In this darkest of circumstances, it’s perhaps understandable that John might have doubted or questioned what all this could mean. I don’t think John expected things to turn out this way. If Jesus was the Messiah, how could John himself be sitting on death row? Fair question. Even with all that John had seen and himself proclaimed, it’s seemingly the exact opposite taking place. 

And so Jesus lovingly sent word back to John in prison: 

• blind receive sight,

• lame walk,

• lepers are cleansed,

• the deaf hear,

• the dead are raised,

• and the poor are told the good news

It’s as if Jesus says to John: “Um let’s see John. If all this stuff is what you were expecting, then yes, I’m the one you’ve been expecting.” 

From where John sat in his circumstances—cousin to the Messiah, sitting in prison, about to lose his head—Jesus wasn’t living up to his expectations. The events surrounding him caused him to question whether Jesus could be that Liberating King he and all of Israel had been expecting. But Jesus assured him: “Yes, it’s me. Look at all I have done, just like you said I would. Just like I said I would. Just like the prophets said I would. Though you think this is the worst, trust me. Don’t give up now.” 

So that’s John the Baptist. What about you and and your circumstances. Do you ever begin to wonder if Jesus is the one? Could he be, after all, with everything that’s going on in the world? 

• Wars & threat of nuclear & biological annihilation

• Poverty

• Job loss

• Violence

• Disease

• False teachers and wolves infiltrating the Church

• Out of control sexual immorality

• Family dysfunction

• Political tensions

• Hatred among all people

• Racism

• Abortion

• Sex slave trade

• Persecution and execution of Christians at an historic high

Many people have very different expectations for who Jesus is and came to be. How about you? Is Jesus…

1. a bearded sky genie or Santa Claus figure who grants wishes or prayers, but otherwise is not interested in us or we him.

2. a hippy Godster. God is a self help guru, who wants us to love everything and live in peace and harmony with nature. He is nonjudgmental and is interested in the empowerment of the individual realizing their full potential through nature and the realization of the self.

3. a wrathful God Newsman, who focuses on societal and justice issues and is always calling for the destruction of a movement or group as a threat against the very gates of heaven, and any who do not join the cause are themselves enemies.

4. an Academic Professor God. This being is a nebulous entity that changes based on the most current revelation through papers, archaeology, and textual criticism. Sometimes this being will actually hold contradicting behaviors and views based on the smallest of details.

5. and evangelical Soul collector God. The Soul Collector was a popular form of portraying God for a long time. He was seen as sitting on his mighty throne manipulating a wargame using humans as pawns against his opponent the Devil. Score is kept and in the end God wins.

Pieces of these may sound ok to you. But I hope you can see how they each fall short.

Jesus didn’t bring about the militaristic or political kingdom that many expected him to bring. Jesus brings a new kind of kingdom. A kingdom of peace, justice, righteousness. A kingdom that reigns in the hearts of those who continue to proclaim the one truth that matters: Jesus is Lord. If you believe that, would you say it aloud with me: Jesus is Lord! And his kingdom will never come to an end. So don’t give up now. 

He says to us: “Yes, it’s me. Look at all I have done, just like you said I would. Just like I said I would. Just like the prophets said I would. Though you think this is the worst, trust me. Don’t give up now.” 

In 1984 author and mother Heidi Murkoff wrote the expectant mother’s guide, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Millions of pregnant moms still read it today. Murkoff tapped into the idea that expectation itself comes with it its own set of expectations. Expectation is not just about waiting. Waiting is good, but fruitful expectation requires waiting AND preparation. That preparation takes some work. 

Jesus told his disciples that there would be work to do, and it’s no different those of us who continue in the discipline of Jesus. Shortly after Jesus sent back his reply to John the Baptist, he sat with his disciples and encouraged them with these words in Matthew 11:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

I can give a handful of suggestions for how we can prepare as we wait. And this is the perfect time, having just celebrated the birth of our King, looking at the start of a new year, and as we long for our King’s return… 

Here are a few ideas, but there’s no doubt much more. I think these basic ones might be a good place to start giving some attention…

1. Weekly Worship

For most of us coming to church is a habit. Have you noticed that some habits, once they lose the reason behind them, become empty habits. And empty habit may still be good for you, but it’s hard to pass it on because the “why” is no longer apparent.

My mother-in-law, born in 1920, used to decry the lack of spiritual dedication in our communities and nation today. She said that in her day they just knew they ought to be in church. And she was right. There was a time when going to church was more than going to church. The dissemination of the gospel through the weekly gathering of people in worship was strategic and meaningful. But as the “you need to go to church” message continued, the “why” did not. A couple generations later, and we found the American church calling people to attend church, and scratching their heads as to why they don’t. It’s not that coming to worship is no longer meaningful, but that merely attending church isn’t a “why” in and of itself. Within the context of discipleship it is absolutely formative and still strategic—God’s people gathering to celebrate his story always has been—but in and of itself, the form without the understood content loses it’s meaning. 

Perhaps you have friends and family who only come to worship gatherings on Easter or Christmas Eve. Be glad they come, first of all. But second, don’t beat them up for not coming more with phrases like, “you should know better.” Instead, show them in your life that worship means something, makes a difference in how you live. The whole point of worshiping as a people of God is to reflect what we believe so that it in turn shapes how we live. Then the message of “why” will become clear. 

2. The Christian Year

Adopt a rule of life that is grounded in the life of Jesus. Most of our lives are centered around a calendar, a civic calendar. But what if you realigned your orbit around the events of Christ’s life? This is called the Christian Year. Mainly the Cycle of Light (Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany), then the Cycle of Life (Lent, Holy week, Easter & Pentecost). Ordering your life around Christ’s helps you to identify with him, see what he sees, and fine tune your efforts as his disciple. One great resource for this is a site called Sacred Ordinary Days where you can find planners, videos, and other tools to help.

3. Read Scripture

Reading Scripture… Many use a Bible reading plan. A whole lot of people start out the new year with the best of intentions to read through the Bible in a year. And that’s a great goal. But the vast majority of people end up fizzling out mid-February, if they even make it that far. Repeat that failed attempt a couple years in the row, and it’s downright discouraging. The fear of potential guilt in another failure overpowers your desire to try again. You can rationalize that no attempt is better than a failed attempt. First of all, don’t let Satan lie to you like that. At worst, you’ll have read through Genesis and Exodus a few times. But at best, with prayer, support from friends, and the Holy Spirit, and some helpful tools, you can push through and realize the joy and benefits of reading the entirety of God’s written word. And once you accomplish it, you’ll be amazed how exciting it can be to do it again. Because, of course, reading Scripture in and of itself isn’t the goal, but what it produces in us as we absorb it’s meaning and wisdom. Whether it’s through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, or some other reading plan, here are some tools:

• The Chronological Bible

• The Merged Gospel

The Text This Week

4. The Table.

Jesus gave us the most profound ways of staying connected to him there is and he even set it up as a command of sorts—and an easy one at that: The Lord’s Supper. He promised to be with us, left us his words, and gave us real and tangible objects to assure us of his presence: bread and cup. We’ve done a great job of complicating things, and in the meantime we can lose sight of how simple it really is. Just like the disciples who ate with Jesus in Emmaus following his resurrection, their eyes were opened and they knew him in the breaking of the bread. That is gift of Communion for us as well. Are we expecting to meet with Jesus when we gather at his table? Or is it at risk of being an empty practice. If we’re expecting Jesus, then we’ll be no different than his first disciples who went and told everyone, and we can expect the world to change.

Howard Thurman wrote the poem, “The Mood of Christmas,” and I’ll conclude, then lead in prayer before we’re served communion and collect our offerings. Reminiscent of the words of John the Baptism and of Jesus himself, may this expectation of Christmas be the expectation for us, the Church, all year long:

When the song of the angels is stilled, 

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins.

To find the lost, 

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.

Lets us pray…

Scripture Verses

Luke 3:21-22; 7:18-23

Worship Playlist

Worship Playlist

Our God
by Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman, Jesse Reeves, and Chris Tomlin
as recorded by Chris Tomlin

Fade Away
by Melodie Malone, Sean Curran, and Jonathan Smith
as recorded by Passion

by Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, and Pat Barrett
as recorded by Pat Barrett

Nobody Loves Me Like You
by Ed Cash and Scott Cash
as recorded by Chris Tomlin

Study Questions

Apply It!