This sermon was recorded October 30,2020 for our Christmas Eve worship. Yep, we’re early as we have a lot of video to edit! It will be on YouTube on Dec. 23, 2020 Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Luke 2: 1-20
Sometimes life is beyond our expectations. I think it’s fair to say that this year fits that description. At Christmas last year, we were looking into the future with the expectation that life would only be better, or least not this. I have to say that it’s beyond my expectation to be leading worship mostly on-line, or that in person communion would become dangerous. It is beyond my expectation that I would wear a mask anytime I left the house, and leaving would be rare. It’s beyond my expectation that I would have Zoom fatigue. And it’s completely beyond my expectation to be writing and recording a Christmas Eve sermon in late October. (Happy Halloween everyone!) It’s beyond our expectations that our celebrations and worship are so different and, well, unexpected.
Expectations are notoriously challenging, as they are rarely met. Expectations are built on what we know about our present and our experience of the past, what we think we can control and know our future. Expectations have an almost truth like quality to them, as we commonly cement expectations into our own consciousness. Expectations are about what we can imagine, what we want to be true, and based on our limited experiences. When expectations aren’t met, it’s disorienting, and we’re often disappointed and disillusioned. Even when expectations are exceeded, it’s just as challenging, as it still requires a shift in our thinking and response. Anything beyond our expectations, transforms us.
The beloved Luke 2 Jesus birth narrative states that Mary “was expecting a child.” Expecting. Mary probably had certain expectations for her life and life with Joseph. I’m willing to guess that conception of a child out of wedlock by the Holy Spirit, being told by the Angel Gabriel that the baby would be the Son of the Most High who would save the world and giving birth among animals were beyond her and Joseph’s expectations.
It was beyond the expectations of the shepherds on duty that night outside of Bethlehem to be serenaded by a multitude of the heavenly hosts about the birth of the Messiah. The people of Israel had been expecting a Messiah for a long time, but it was beyond the expectation of these shepherds, on the lowest rung of society, that they would be the first to hear or see it for themselves. It was beyond anyone’s expectation that this new family would have as their first visitors the shepherds who shared the angelic message of the expectation of this new frail baby. It was beyond their expectation of what the coming years would bring for this newborn, how his life would transform the world, shatter the expectations of so many people, break open hearts and imaginations, and two thousand years later we would be ruminating on their story. Some of their expectations would go unmet, yet God’s presence, love and mercy would turn out to be beyond what they could expect or imagine.
The truth is that we have many unmet expectations this year. We expected to attend a candlelight worship, to sing Silent Night together, watch the children dressed as angels, hear the choir sing, and be together. We expected family gatherings, joyous meals, meaningful gifts, and festive parties. And as I am preaching this sermon on October 30, I am obviously projecting expectations on what December 24 will be like for me and for you. I don’t actually know what the next two months will bring, I don’t know what to expect. Just like Joseph and Mary who never expected to parent the Son of God, or the shepherds who never expected to be the first witnesses to God’s incarnation with humanity and creation, we just don’t know what to expect for the coming weeks, months or year.
In the unmet expectations this year, the truth is also that God’s presence and work in our midst has been beyond my expectation. It’s beyond expectation how OSLC would turn our focus so rapidly and unwaveringly to protecting and caring for our community outside our walls, how robustly we would respond to digital worship and embrace Zoom simply to see each other.
God has shown up and shattered our expectations of what life can be, and what life should be in this pandemic. Just as it is beyond human expectation for God to show up as a baby in the middle of nowhere 2000 years ago, in Jesus, to live as one of us, so too it’s beyond expectation how God shows up in our midst today. God shows up in holy Facetimes with beloved family in assisted living facilities, in sacred Zoom family game nights, in smiling eyes above masked faces, in funding organizations for neighbors in need, in difficult conversations of articulating our faith in the midst of political and racial upheaval. God’s very presence has unexpectedly bound us to one another despite distancing. We are together beyond our expectations.
God is all about shattering our expectations, showing us that life with God is beyond anything we can expect because God’s expectation for us and creation transforms us, reorients us to what is true even when we don’t expect it. God transforms our unmet expectations into wholeness, healing, new life and love. We trust and expect God’s presence no matter where we are, even if the situation is beyond our expectations. God promises that life with God, through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, will always be beyond our expectations. Amen, and Merry Christmas!