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Expectations Exceeded

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

The gospel today is filled with expectation. The Jewish people came to John with an idea and an image of who Christ would be. Their expectation comes from our first reading from Isaiah, because the title Christ literally means the anointed one, and the passage from Isaiah prophesies what the anointed one, what Christ would do. He would bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives, and announce a year of favor from the Lord. So when John the Baptist begins preaching, the people approach with an expectation, a question of whether he might be the anointed one to do all these things. Ever the faithful servant, John tells them that he is not the anointed one, he is not Christ… but he preserves their hope; he tells them not only that the Christ is already among them and they should thus have eager expectation, but that he is not worthy even to untie his sandal, that this Christ is going to be something far greater than they think.

What is your expectation of the anointed one? This whole season of Advent we have been preparing to welcome Christ into our lives, stirring up that desire to know him in a deeper way… but when that happens, what do you expect it to be like? Ultimately I cannot answer that question for you. I know that the broken will be healed like the prophesy of Isaiah proclaimed and the life of Christ demonstrated. I know that his love for us shatters the bonds of death and the chains of sin, that he promises the peace of God’s Kingdom. But I also know that the apostles and martyrs found something worth sacrificing their own lives for, even to death itself. How do you expect your life to change when you enter the presence of Christ?

I hope in this time of Advent preparation you give some thought to that question, but I have a more pressing concern. In less than two weeks, many of our brothers and sisters are going to come here for Christmas who have not been with us for many months, or maybe even longer. What do you suppose their expectation is, and what do you suppose they will find? My guess is that they don’t expect much, because they don’t come any other time. My guess is that they expect to feel not necessarily unwelcome but certainly not invited, like outsiders standing on the edge of a crowd. We need to change their expectations. If nothing else, on Christmas day do not think of them as the twice-a-year Catholics and do not resent that this place will be crowded, because even if you say and do nothing to reveal it they will know. People know from the glance of an eye and a million other things when they are not loved and welcomed. When these people are here you should look at them with only one thought: my brothers and sisters.

John the Baptist said that he was not the light, but that he came to testify to the light. On Christmas day, testify to the light. Testify to those who expect very little from the community of faith and from the prayer of mass that there is something here beyond all expectation. Show them the spirit of Christ, that we will have prepared our hearts to receive.


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