Luke 3:15-16; Isaiah 42:1, 5-9
The Reverend Tom Herbek
January 10, 2016
Hope and expectation are not the same thing. To hope is to say to yourself, “Boy, it would be nice if things would be better in this world. Maybe that will happen one day.” To be filled with expectation is to say to yourself: “I can see some things happening around me, the beginnings of some possibilities that will make the world a better place.”
John the Baptizer and Jesus were two people who both instilled hope in the people they met, but Jesus went even further. Jesus caused people to look around them and see everything differently, and to believe that action is called for. John filled people with hope. Jesus filled people with that next step: expectation.
Sometime in his 20’s, Jesus left home and went into the wilderness, where a prophet named John the Baptizer was making a difference in the lives of many people. John was an important person in Judaism of the first century; in fact, Josephus, the Jewish historian of the day, gives more space to John than to Jesus.
And then, John the Baptizer is executed by the Romans. It is no wonder they killed John. John’s strategy was to baptize people and then send them home to wait for the moment, the call, when God would come to change the world and overcome the Roman oppressors. John was inserting “sleeper cells,” human ticking time bombs all through the land, ready to go off at the right time. No wonder they killed him.
And after this, Jesus began his ministry in earnest. The death of John instilled in Jesus the momentum to get started with his mission. But Jesus decided that John was wrong in one very important way.
As New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan writes:
Jesus changed his view about John’s mission and message. For Jesus it is no longer enough simply to await God’s intervention to bring in a new world. One must enter a new world – which he calls the Kingdom – here and now. The Kingdom is an ever-present reality in which Jesus lived and into which he invited all whom he met to enter. Perhaps it was John’s execution that led Jesus to understand that God did not and would not change the world through imminent apocalyptic restoration. Jesus would begin to move in a new direction: it is not that we are waiting for God, but that God is waiting for us.
Out of his experience in the wilderness, Jesus realized that we must not passively wait for God to change the world. Instead, Jesus said, over and over again, that God is waiting for us, calling to us. Jesus experienced God on numerous occasions, was filled with God’s spirit and God was a living reality, not just something Jesus believed. Jesus called people to a relationship with the spirit of God here and now, not sometime in the future. Just as Jesus realized that God was calling him to begin, Jesus spent his life calling people to begin.
That call of Jesus is still happening. It is moving us beyond passive hope to expectation, and from expectation to action. Quaker activist Parker Palmer says that we need to start acting, start living. “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living, but you live your way into a new kind of thinking.”
As Palmer once wrote: “The world isn’t something we have to adjust to. It’s something we adjust. Since the world is in us, we are responsible for the world – and the shape the world takes depends on how we live our lives.”
We are called to be those who shape the world around us. We are not called to sit around and contemplate life. We are called to live life, called to action. While Jesus calls us to a life that will make us whole, Jesus says that getting there is not the path that we often think it is.
As Palmer comments:
Personal well-being is one of those strange things that eludes those who aim directly at it and comes to those who aim elsewhere. It was best said in the words of Jesus: “He who seeks his life will lose it, and he who loses his life . . . will find it” (Matthew 10:39). We must learn that the ultimate therapy for the unwell self is to identify our own pain with the pain of others and band together to resist the conditions that create our common malady.
That the family can be a model of great power seems clear. For example, many of us find it impossible to imagine a form of community in which each contributes according to ability and receives according to need, a community with a common pot built up by those who can and drawn down by those who must. Yet wage earners in strong families have no question that a child or a spouse who earns no money has full claim on his or her resources. We might reach toward larger expressions of community by asking how to expand our sense of who belongs to “our family.”
What seems impossible for us alone may seem much more possible when we band together with others. When we expand our notion of family, not only is it easier to give, but we may also recognize possibilities that we never saw before for us to make a difference. And we might then be filled with expectation, with an awareness that, when we come together, it gives us a freedom to respond actively, and a strength to make a difference in creative and compassionate ways.
Our family that is related to us gets much bigger when we add to it our church family. Our church family gets much bigger when we add to it our friends, our neighbors, strangers we have not yet met, and people who need us, and those who enable us to become more of who we have been created to be, who we have been called to be.
In 2016, may we, too, be filled with expectation!