Thirty years ago my go-to book was the classic “What to Expect when you’re Expecting”. I wasn’t quite Mary-sized for the pageant that year, but I was far enough along that everyone knew the Presbyterian Church of Attica would soon grow by one member. The book details what physical, mental, and emotional changes occur during pregnancy on a month-by-month basis. I’m pretty sure I had much of it memorized.
There are other books in the series including “What to Expect: the Toddler Years”, and the ever-popular, “What to Expect: Year Two”. I remember a few years back looking to see if there was “What to Expect when you’re Expecting Menopause” but apparently that book is yet to be written.
The church talks a good talk about expectation and hope during this season of Advent. What we don’t expect is the unexpected. Some of our congregations have codified Christmas (and the Advent run-up) to the point where any deviation from established tradition is seen as heresy. One year, the family invited to light the advent candle lit the wrong candle. When I later heard several folks in the congregation complain about this mishap, I echoed their concern and added that I was pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t be coming this year because of this grave oversight.
I’m not certain they appreciated my insight.
How is it that the most unexpected event in history has become so over-orchestrated by good folk in the church? Some of it has to do with an attempt to re-create holy moments, and the sense that if certain things don’t happen, we won’t feel the way we felt that first time. Some of it has to do with comfort (and joy… comfort and joy!) of knowing what will occur and when. If the wreaths on the door are always the same it’s one less thing for good-meaning folk to debate. There’s something to be said about knowing what to expect when you’re expecting.
We may sing “Come thou, long-expected Jesus” but in spite of the lyrics, we’re singing about a distant baby in a far-off manger and not the Christ who calls us to freedom from fear and the call to work towards God’s kin-dom. Jesus of the cradle is so much easier to worship than the Jesus who walks toward Jerusalem and the Jesus of the cross. We expect the baby to show on Christmas Eve, but not the Rebel Jesus*.
And yet, God surprises us still. May the unexpected show up for us this Advent and Christmas season.
*With many thanks to Jackson Browne for this language, and the incredible song of the same name. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr1d0ivyTTk