where have you imprisoned yourself with expectations of hope or dread? And what ways do you work to rebuild your prison walls? Have you isolated yourself from the love and healing of God and others? The door of your cell is locked, but only from the inside. Open the door and flee the confines of your expectation. A new world awaits you.
May I speak in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We are all people of expectations. When we go to bed at night, we expect the sun to rise in the morning. We expect others to stop at a red light. We expect it will take about an hour and a half to drive to Oxford 40 minutes to Basingstoke. We expect the church to be open on Sundays, lights on Eucharist to be celebrated. We have expectations for what is appropriate behaviourfor ourselves and for others.
Our days are full of expectations. They offer some predictability and order to our world and to our lives. There are other expectations however, and they affect us more profoundly than the day to day ones. Sometimes they are expectations of hope. And other times they are expectations of dread. Either way, they have the power to imprison us. Expectations of hope, create the framework of how we think the world and life should be. They are often the ideals and dreams that that carry us forward. They in some way describe our vision of what we want. There are also expectations of dread the things of life that we fear and want to avoid. Whenever we speak about wanting to simply get through the next day or week or a particular aspect of life. There is an underlying expectation of dread.
The thing about expectations is that they pull us out of the present moment into the future, we do not yet have – except that that exists in our own head. And pretty soon we begin to act and speak as if our expectations, either of hope or dread, are the reality of our lives. We allow those expectations to shape our attitudes, our beliefs, the way we relate to one another. those expectations even shape the image of who God is, and where God can show up and how God should act. And if God does not meet our expectations, we are too quick to question God rather than ourselves.
We trust our expectations of what God should be doing more than we trust what God is actually doing.
Perhaps this week, there are those who have had their expectations dashed, and others whose expectations are only just beginning for their lives and for our country. John the Baptist is a man of expectations.
Last week’s Gospel showed John to have a voice crying out in the wilderness, Repent, The kingdom of heaven is come near. He expects a new kingdom and a new ruler. He expects wrath, fire, axes, he expects the one who is to come more powerful. And John’s expectations have given the , the confidence and ability to turn his back on the religious establishment, go out into the desert, and to seek God in the wild and untamed places of life.
But today, the gospel offers a very different picture of John. Today he is a prisoner with a question. Are you the one? Or are we to wait for another?
So what happened? How did John get from the vast wilderness expanse to the confines of four walls? How did he go from being a prophet with all the answers to a prisoner with questions? Well, at one level, we as we know, it started when he criticised Herod, it’s not lawful. John says, for you to have your brother’s wife. That’s in Matthew 14. And so Herod has him arrested, bound and imprisoned. That’s the historical answer. But Holy Scripture always invites us to see and listen more deeply to discern a spiritual meaning.
Herod may have put John in jail, but John’s own expectations have imprisoned him. Herod’s jail, the historical bricks and mortar is an external symbol of the inner prison to which John now waits. It is the interior prison of disappointment and disillusionment. He is confined by his own unmet expectations. He has heard about all that the Christ the Messiah is doing. But where is the axe? Where is the fire? Where is the winnowing fork? Where is the wrath in the midst of cleansing lepers giving sight to the blind raising the dead?
So John sends a message. Are you the one who has to come? Or are we to wait for another? It’s as if John is saying, you, you’re the one? Isn’t there someone else? Perhaps someone better? – better fits his expectations.
John has been incarcerated by his own expectations of who the Messiah is and how the Messiah should act. His vision of the kingdom is too small. His expectation of the Messiah too narrow.
And that is the danger of holding our expectations too tightly, whether their expectations of hope, or of dread, our own expectations often blind us to the one who is coming to the one who is more powerful. We imprison ourselves with a view of God, the kingdom, the world, our own lives that is too small, too narrow. And we try and confine God’s work and life to our expectation. But that’s not how God is or how he works. We thought God would make our lives easy, and instead, he calls us to live more deeply. We wanted God to eliminate our suffering, and instead discovered God standing with us in the midst of our pain.
We expected God would make us number one, but he called us to identify with the least the last the lost We wanted him to make us strong, but he called us to discover his strength in our weakness. We hoped God would destroy our enemies. But he commanded us to love them. He wanted to be the leaders, we wanted to be the leaders. But God told us to be servants.
Every time one of our expectations is unmet, our prison walls crumble. This the Way has been prepared and we must decide, will we escape or simply rebuild the walls? It would be so much easier if Jesus would just come and do as we expect, but he won’t. But he won’t leave us hiding in our cells, no matter how comfortable or safe they might seem to us. He loves us too much. There is a part of us, however, that persists with our expectation and our question yes or no? Are you the one who is coming or Are we to wait for another? Just answer the question Jesus! He does not do that for us or for John. A simple yes or no answer will not release us from our jails.
We will escape only when we let go of our expectations. We will escape when we open our minds and our hearts to a bigger kingdom. We will escape when we trust God, more than we trust our own ideas about God.
This week has shown us that the season of Advent is the season of jailbreaks it is the season of escaping our expectations of God. It is the time in which the falling apart of our world is show not to be the end of the world, when wrath, axes and fire are about love and healing rather than punishment and destruction. When God is as quiet as a thief in the night.
So I wonder, where have you imprisoned yourself with expectations of hope or dread? And what ways do you work to rebuild your prison walls? Have you isolated yourself from the love and healing of God and others? The door of your cell is locked, but only from the inside. Open the door and flee the confines of your expectation. A new world awaits you. What will you see and hear. The blind receive their sight. The lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, the Deaf here, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them: That would be us. God is always coming to former inmates.