When my wife and I were expecting our first son, we had a book in the house that was new at the time. It was called “What to expect when you are expecting.” Of course such a book is considered to be mandatory reading these days in getting ready for a baby. No one... nobody should leave for the hospital before you've read it. But what do you read and what do you need to know when you are expecting a Messiah?
John questions Jesus through his disciples, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” (Matthew 11.2-11) John asks the question because Jesus was not acting like many thought the Messiah of Israel. He was not there to kick butt and take names. He was not leading a war against the occupying Roman Army and its Empire. There was no bloodshed, wailing, crying or annihilation of garrisons of soldiers. In other words, Jesus by John’s estimation was not acting like the Messiah many were expecting him to be. And because what he was hearing about the Messiah and his ministry he needed to find out if his announcement of the king and his kingdom was premature or mistimed in some way. Had John gotten it wrong and had he put his faith in the wrong horse?
We need to be careful when looking for God to do something: his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts because his ways and thoughts are higher than ours. He sees from another perspective and has his plan of salvation, of rescuing of us to fulfill. Therefore Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and report what they see happening around them: the blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can walk, the leapers are made clean, the dead rise and the poor receive the good news of the kingdom that is to come. The kingdom that was and is expected is breaking into this world but it is not all that it is yet. Blessed are you if you don’t fall away because you don’t see me doing what you think I should be doing.
In essence, we are being challenged to redefine what we are expecting when we are expecting the Messiah. God’s kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this earth – Jesus made that clear before Pilate. Yet so often we live our lives and our faith as if it is the kingdom of me and mine: me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine. The kingdom has to conform to me and to my thoughts and my doctrine or it isn't right. It is rather idolatrous of us to think and act as such. We need to deal with it before God and with each other.
Unfortunately, John did not live to see the fulfilling of the plan: the ways in which Jesus suffered, died and was raised from the dead. He didn't foresee the formation of the Church and what the Church was going to be asked to do. There are some things that are hard to see when you are imprisoned and your own neck is on the block. You sit there in the silence and the grief and you wonder if it was the right thing and if it was worth it. You will question yourself and have your own doubts. God call and challenges us to change our expectations so that we can see what he is and to have better goals than what we demand of him and others for ourselves.
That means we can start by changing what it is we are expecting this Christmas. Instead of trying to keep trying to keep Christ in Christmas, try keeping Christ in Christians. If we can make room for him in our cells, then maybe the door to freedom will swing open wide and we will walk, finally free.