Thursday, December 22, 2016

Waiting in Joyful Hope

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.  (Malachi 3:1)

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.  When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No.  He will be called John.”  But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”  So they made signs asking his father what he wished him to be called.  He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.  Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. (Luke 1:57-64)

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Birth of John the Baptist; from the High
Altar of St Kilian and John the Baptist in
Schlüsselfeld (Steigerwald); Bamberg, c. 1475
Public Domain
As I was reading and pondering today’s Scripture passages, the name of a book I read in the 70’s popped into my head – Your God is Too Small.1  It’s not that I was thinking God is by any means too small, but perhaps our expectations of what God can do are.

In the verses from the Book of the prophet Malachi, God says a messenger will come to prepare the way for God.  In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist is born, come to prepare the way for Jesus, the Lord.  Who knows what people expected or if they even remembered God’s words about sending a messenger.  But they certainly didn’t react very well to the adult Baptist’s preaching or lifestyle.  Rather than helping to prepare the way of the Lord, the people said John was possessed by demons.  Here God was, doing a great thing, and that’s all the crowds could make of it.

For many years Zechariah and Elizabeth longed for a child, but when the angel tells Zechariah earlier in the chapter that their prayers will be answered, he is filled more with doubt than joyful expectation.  Is God really up to the task of seeing them through this late-in-life pregnancy?  God is evidently disappointed when we don’t believe God can fulfill our deepest desires, because Zechariah’s lack of faith results in his being unable to speak until John is born and named according to God’s choice, despite the protests of family and friends.

All of Advent is about joyfully preparing for the coming of the Lord, whether celebrating Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, acknowledging Jesus coming into our hearts each and every day, or Jesus’ return as King in glory at the end of time.  As we approach Christmas, we remember how small in comparison to reality were the people’s expectations for their Messiah.  They wanted someone who would make Israel a powerful political entity, a nation who could defeat her enemies and be a player on the world stage.  They rejected the much greater gifts bestowed by God through Jesus – compassion, mercy, healing, forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life with God.

As you spend the final two days of Advent preparing the way of the Lord, take a few minutes to recollect the times you have asked God for something and received gifts far exceeding your hopes and expectations.  That is the way of the generous and bountiful God to whom we open our hearts in joyful hope. 

1 J.B. Philips, Your God is Too Small, Macmillan, 1971

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