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Advent – keeping expectation alive 

The present is changed by what the future holds: what does it mean to be a Community of Expectation? By John Rackley


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C Day Lewis closes his poem ‘Christmas Eve’ with these lines:

Yet would it not make those carolling angels weep
To think how incarnate love
Means such trivial joys to us children of unbelief?
No. It’s a miracle enough
If through centuries, clouded and dingy, this Day can keep
Expectation alive.

He is talking about Christmas Eve. It’s children who lead the way. It’s a time of excitement. Expectation rises; everything else pales into insignificance. The present is changed by what the future holds.

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light declares the prophet Isaiah.

What has happened? A child has been born. Expectation rises; his arrival makes everything else pale into insignificance. The present is changed by what the future holds.

Zechariah, a priest of the Order of Abijah, husband of Elizabeth; childless he enters the place of incense burning encounters a messenger of God and emerges expecting to be a father.

A child is to be born. His arrival makes everything else pale into insignificance. The present is changed by what the future holds.

Expectation is a powerful force. Expectation arises from your deepest desires and longings.
Expectation can make everything else pale into insignificance. The present is changed by what the future holds.
Advent is a time of expectation. The readings of Scripture; the songs of the Church; the preparation for Christmas all point ahead to the arrival of something special; an event like no other.

All Isaiah saw was the arrival a child – and life exploded into the light of a thousand stars.

C Day Lewis wistfully notes that even if the miracle of the birth of the Son of God doesn’t do it – Christmas Eve has the power to re-invigorate the most jaded of us. We’re all kids on Christmas Eve.

Elizabeth wonders what her husband has been up to at the Temple – but what she does know is that there is new life in her where there had been none.

Expectation can make everything else pale into insignificance. The present is changed by what the future holds.

And I’m wondering this morning about the Church as a Community of Expectation.

Can the Church, this church, this church blessed with the most wonderful of names – the name of the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace be a people, a scene of childlike expectation?

A company of people who are well aware that we walk in darkness, yet there is a light shining.
A company of people who have to work by rotas and plans and notice boards and constitution and all the tedium that brings but, but, but there is more here than that – there is an expectation that where the Spirit is willing, the Spirit of the Wonderful Counsellor, the weakness of the flesh becomes the dwelling place of the Word, the Logos.

A Community of Expectation is a place where we do the same old things because it is our turn on the list – but at any moment something different is said or done which comes from the future to change the present, and we are left speechless.
During Advent I have been re-reading Holiness by Donald Nicholl. He as a Roman Catholic, a historian, wrote a column in The Tablet; co-worker with Mother Theresa and became the Director of the Tantur Institute near Bethlehem.  He writes:

 ‘At the centre of the universe is a loving Heart whose longings are the source of our own heart’s longings.  Hence our own longings can never be in vain, because they correspond with reality, with that Heart upon which our universe is centred. We can never be discouraged as long as we hold on to that truth; for it means that even the slightest human effort is never wasted, but eventually will bear fruit. How vital this realisation is becomes clear when we reflect on the many frustrations we experience every day of our lives. Only by faith that at the centre of the universe is a loving Heart can we know that these frustrations are not in vain’.

I find this deeply encouraging:  At the centre of the universe is a loving Heart whose longings are the source of our own heart’s longings. 

God has expectations! God has longings.

God expects – there is no hesitation – God’s present is our future blessing.

To be a Community of Expectation doesn’t mean we will know it all in detail.
But it does mean that we are not limited by:

  • how far we can see,
  • previous experience,
  • yesterday’s successes.

Communities of Expectation:

  • Are not dragged down by frustration/disappointment
  • Do not limit their expectations to what is comfortable
  • Are not fooled by unrealistic fantasies
  • Are ready to change their minds
  • And move from expectation to anticipation.

What’s the difference?

A member of the crowd watching the game may, as the ball is moved forward, expect the forward to score, but it is the midfielder with the ball who when it comes to the next pass has to anticipate the striker’s next move.
Expectation creates anticipation and anticipation gets results.

So what did the Jews do who listened to the prophet and his successors, but things didn’t go in the direction they expected t(he child was born, but the darkness remained)? They didn’t give up expecting God to act but in anticipation of this, in exile – the worked at their theology; re-constructed their identity; developed new patterns of prayer and worship and anticipated that at any time they would be needed to change direction and follow God’s new path home.
A few weeks ago I led a pilgrimage around our village. We began in the prayer room of the local Christian coffee shop and were reminded that one of the meanings of pilgrimage is ‘to seek the place of our resurrection’.

To be a pilgrim is to walk with expectation. It is to live in such a way that anticipates the future.

We are walking through a broken-down world but with hearts centred on the Prince of Peace who is always calling us to come closer and know the peace of God which passes all understanding – which is one way of describing our resurrection destiny and our Advent expectation.


God of a child on Christmas Eve, a prophet in time of national emergency, a childless woman and man – push back all that frustrates us and eats away at our hopes, and build in us a faith based in a reverent expectation of the work of your Spirit in our time.


Image | Elizabeth Explores | Unsplash

John Rackley lives in Leicestershire


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