Advent: What do you expect?
Expectation is a primary theme of the season of Advent – the four weeks of preparation before Christmas. Even though we know the story of Jesus’ coming into the world, the Church in its wisdom asks us to reflect on it again each year. Because the world changes each year, and so do we, our expectations of Christ take on new meaning each time the days shorten, the air grows sharp with cold, and the calendar year grinds to an end.
This coming year at St. Dunstan’s, we need to think about some particular expectations: what you as a congregation expect of the new rector who will come; what you expect of God’s future for this church.
When a new rector is being sought, there are always jokes about the qualifications: “able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound…always available in the office, while spending all her time with the youth…a decisive leader who never offends anybody….” It’s important to manage your expectations of your new clergy leader!
Often, I think, parishioners hope that the new priest will take over and make everything happen easily, without great efforts required by the people. That’s a false expectation, and a dangerous one. Your new leader’s effectiveness will be directly tied to the active commitment of the congregation. Yes, s/he’ll bring welcome new energy and vision, but it won’t go far without elbow-grease – yours.
After all, the Jews of Jesus’ time expected a Messiah to come and rescue them out of their sorry predicament under Roman occupation. They hoped for a powerful warrior-messiah to root out the Romans and set everything aright, while they looked on and cheered!
But what they got was a weak, vulnerable child, born poor, with no armies to back him up. Eventually, a group of rag-tag disciples joined him, and he kept saying, “The Kingdom of God is among you.”
While Jesus had many powers to heal and transform individuals, he did not wave a magic wand and transform the world. He worked through people. He taught them and led them, he gave them examples of how to live with compassion, but he did not do the work for them.
And so it will be for you. “What do you expect from your new rector?” That’s an important thing to think about and discuss before s/he comes. Reasonable expectations, coupled with lots of good will, support, and forgiveness, will help St. Dunstan’s walk with strength into God’s future for us.
St. Paul writes about his frustration with an unspecified malady in his life. He asked God to remove it. But the Lord refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Cor. 12:9) God does not choose to act through superheroes with cosmic powers. God acts through human beings…like Jesus, like us. That’s what we should expect. JBM