Advent: Expectation vs Reality

An early Advent Reflection

Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time.

Van_Gogh_-_Country_road_in_Provence_by_nightAdvent is a season of expectation, a time during which we wait and prepare for Christmas. It is also the beginning of a new Church year, so even more than other days, we are given a new beginning; we can make a new start.

As all of us have experienced, the reality does not always coincide with our expectation: more often than not it doesn’t. Whether it is our expectation of ourselves, our expectations of others, many a time, the reality is not as good as we had expected, and we can feel let down, again by ourselves or by others. It is an experience so common, that I don’t even think I need to give an example.

In some ways, maybe even the Christmas story itself started off as a reality short of expectations too. The Messiah, the long-expected Saviour, did not come as a Prince to a great, royal palace, but was born as a vulnerable baby in a stable. He was not born of royal parents, but of a lowly maiden. Yes, he was adopted into the lineage of David through Joseph, but that was probably not the way many Jews at the time had expected it to be.

We may see our own situation reflected in this picture at times: this is not what we expected! Weren’t we promised something better? And what do we do with that? What do we do when the reality doesn’t quite, or doesn’t at all, match our expectations?

Maybe the answer to that question is contained in the Christmas story too. Because although Jesus’ birth, the way God chose to live among us, was different from what we expected, the core of the promise had not been changed. Although it was different, it was by no means less good than what had been promised: a Saviour, a Messiah. One could even say that it exceeded our expectations: God Himself chose to live among us. It wasn’t immediately clear what that meant, and only about thirty years later it became evident that God indeed had kept his promise.

So sometimes it requires patience to see that our reality in essence is not that different from our expectation, and even that we do not always have the imagination to expect the reality that is given to us. But what about our response? Waiting is not always easy, as most of us know, and the words ‘God has a plan for you’ can sound very trite. Mary’s words to the Angel Gabriel come to mind:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 

Here am I, with my expectations, with my failures, with my hopes and with my fears. Our response is to be, to stick with it; not to walk away, even if the reality is so different from what we expected. Let it be with me according to your word. Let it be with me: an acceptance that we cannot always control our circumstances, that we cannot control others, but that despite that we trust and live in expectation.

Our advent expectation is for the Light to come to the world. In the darkness of our own lives, and in the darkest places of our world. The light will shine in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. That is our Advent hope; that is our Advent expectation.

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