3 Advent A – December 12, 2010 – What Do You Expect?
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10, Psalm 146:6-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
Today’s Complete Biblical Texts
Oprah Winfrey picked Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for her December book club. You wonder why. As you remember, this classic story touches on crime, social classes, guilt, greed, love and ambition. The main character, Pip, has great expectations of himself as he transitions from misfortune to wealth. The novel is not about giving up when you are down, but finding ways to turn hardships into opportunities.
Our expectations for a merry Christmas — everything this season symbolizes — can be easily overshadowed by a troubled world, a restless nation, personal problems. Except for the very wealthy and privileged class too many people on this planet still live in a parched land, like the wilderness described in our first biblical text.
This passage from Isaiah probably dates to the time of the exile or shortly thereafter. The Israelites were worn out having been held hostage by powerful enemies. The prophet tries to perk them up with a list of “hard to imagination” expectations and possibilities. Flowers blooming in the desert? Flooding in arid land? Weak hands and feeble feet strengthened again?
Much later, also in the wilderness, John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus, reiterated these prophecies. Jailed for his revolutionary agenda he became skeptical. Was Jesus really the one who is to come? Jesus assured John’s disciples that what was envisioned by other prophets and John is already taking place. Note that the miracles listed in this text are about liberation. Jesus like “Moses on a mission,” was leading a second Exodus only this time all nations are invited to join the march to justice.  After claiming no one was superior to John  Jesus questioned the crowd — what did you expect?
It’s a good question for us isn’t it? What do we want out of life? (Calendars are great. They tell what today is, where we’re supposed to be tomorrow; they remind us not to forget the past.) Last Friday (12/10/10) was International Human Rights Day. Is that the great expectation we all have? Human rights?
For women it is to be treated equally and with respect at home, in the work force, in society and in our church. Immigrants and their children? All they want is a chance to work, study and live with dignity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people want the opportunity to live with the same rights others have. These things are not too much to ask, are they? These are not great expectations; they are basic human rights.
Why can’t we achieve them? Year after year we gather and listen to the same prophecies. Seven hundred years went by from the time of Isaiah’s prophecy to the time when John the Baptist prepared the way. The second reading says be patient! Here we are two thousand years after Jesus established the kin-dom of God on earth and we are still at it. Wondering. Waiting. Expecting.
What can we say is really happening? What is God trying to tell to us all these years? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 said it succinctly. “Respect for human rights and dignity is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Today, a Sunday calling us to “rejoice,”  is also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe patron of the Americas. Her miraculous appearance to the poor Aztec Indian Juan Diego in the 16th century continues to provide a ray of hope for a parched people. Mary filled Diego’s tilma (mantle) with roses, flowers blooming in an arid desert.
There is a magnet on my refrigerator with a quote from Winston Churchill. He must have read Dickens’ book, Great Expectations and the bible. The quote says, “Never, never, never give up.” As Christians, this is our calling, this is our mandate.
1 Carr, David. Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY. Notes from handouts.
2 The Gospel of Thomas, 46.
3 The Third Sunday of Advent was once called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the first word in the entrance antiphon of today’s liturgy.