When I was in college I had the opportunity to take a job where I could really give back to the community. It was a job where I could put my faith into real action, serving, loving, reaching, and inspiring children who were at-risk and needy. I signed on with the Boys and Girls Club in a nearby town. I envisioned myself surrounded by loving children all vying for my attention to help them with homework, be a listening ear, or to simply give them a hug that they might have otherwise been lacking at home. I could see them all gathered around, smiles on their faces, wanting to sing and hear stories about Jesus. I thought of myself as some kind of missionary- and truly I was, but not nearly in the way I expected. When I arrived at that smelly gym and met the other counselors- all cynics of a burned-out afterschool program- I was taken back by the plainness of it all. I was given instructions, mostly to make sure the kids didn’t hurt each other, but also to keep them occupied. When the kids arrived that first afternoon, stepping off the school bus in tornado frenzy, I knew I was out of my depth. It was chaos! Homework time was a lesson in crowd control. Game time was organized hysteria. The free-time game room was so loud the bar down the street called to ask us to pipe down. None of the kids realized I was there, or that I was new, or that I cared for them in the slightest. The parents picked them up at the appointed time and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Over the weeks I developed rapport with the kids as well as the other counselors. They gave me the nick name, “edge”. I liked that, even though I never knew why that was my name. I ended up really helping a few of them with homework, and I found that I not only could help build their confidence, but my own was being fashioned. Overall, it was nothing like I expected.
In the first century among the Jews there was a real expectation of a messiah who would come to redeem the people. Most believed the messiah would relieve their oppression from Rome, restore their land to its rightful authority, and usher in a new, powerful kingdom in the mold of King David in the prime of Israel’s history. Many Jewish zealots arose with this ambition- to be the messiah. They gathered small bands of loyal followers who took up arms with this romanticized expectation. All of them failed, and their failure was displayed for all to see as Rome hung them each on a cross. The time was right, the prophets foretold, the people were ready, but each attempt miscarried because they failed to understand the true nature of God’s redemption, freedom, and promises. Granted, it’s a cinch for us to “Monday Morning Quarterback” this thing. We see a much larger story than they did. We like to think that if we were living during the time of Jesus, that we would have easily affirmed him and his mission and ministry. We would have followed him. We would have left our nets, our tax business, and our zealous militant prospects to join him serving the poor, feeding crowds of hungry people, setting out across the lake knowing a storm was brewing, or simply bought into his idea that everything we expected from the Messiah might be wide of the mark. Yet even in this, I think our own expectations are misplaced.
We expect that we would believe and follow. We expect that we would leave it all if He were here in flesh and blood. We expect that were Jesus to knock on our door right now, that we would open the door, invite him in, and dine with the Lord of lords. I expect we think too much of ourselves. The reality of what we actually encounter is found in Jesus’ teaching of the final judgment in Matthew 25. Jesus tells his followers that whatever they’ve done for the least of these, they’ve also done it unto him. If we’re honest, we don’t really picture Jesus as a homeless man, or a poor immigrant, or a desperate refugee, or a screaming schoolchild at the Boys and Girls club. Yet Jesus tells us that the way we respond to these “least people” is how our heart truly responds to Jesus right now. I’m not questioning your salvation here; I’m only trying to raise the veil of the now. We are still living out this story. We are still walking through God’s redemptive history. And while the salvific work of God has been accomplished by the death of Jesus on the cross, His resurrection also gives us a responsibility of expectation right now. What do we expect of His new life in us? What do we expect of His plans for our daily walk? Are our notions rightly placed about what He expects of us? Because frankly, Jesus clearly taught us that what we do or do not do for the least people around us is what we do or do not do for Him. I could list off several people I know that exemplify this teaching in their lifestyle, occupation, or choice of neighborhood in which they live. We would all do well to meditate on our own expectations of Jesus this Advent season, and find ways to serve him, by serving the least people that He brings along our path. It is a joy and a blessing to serve Christ in this way.
The next time you step into a situation where you had romanticized your expectations, try to take a step back and pray for God to open your eyes about what He is doing in the here and now. While on the surface it may seem plain, in actuality it may be a glorious impossible moment of grace, simply because you trusted in faith.