“Expecting” is a word with multiple applications. “I’m expecting a phone call…” “a package in the mail…” “a call back from my interview…” “results of the biopsy…” “a visit from the kids…” And how about this: “The doctor confirmed it; we’re expecting!” Sometimes our expectations make us excited, even giddy; sometimes they are wrapped in dread.
This edition of The Trumpeter stretches across the end of the old year and into the new year. It’s a time of high expectations in our society. What are you expecting? What are we expecting as Christian believers, and as a congregation?
This year we celebrate Advent, the Christian season of expectation of Christ’s appearing, the first four Sundays of December. For centuries, the Jewish people expected Messiah, the Anointed One, to bring about the End of the Age and the Reign of God. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulder … His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace…” (Isaiah 9:6-7). As Christians we believe that this fervent expectation is being fulfilled through Jesus Christ, and we live in the joy of that expectation, especially at Advent.
It’s all too true that the world around us presents us with multiple reasons for anxiety. Sometimes they are personal: health challenges, financial insecurity, relationships gone painfully awry. Thus the coming of the New Year, instead of a hopeful event, a clean canvas as it were, seems more likely to mock us with memories of broken and discarded resolutions and the spectre of “more of the same.” Sometimes we transcend self-concern only enough to worry about errant children or grandchildren, or to brood over “global issues” such as the threat of terrorism or the effects of climate change.
I would not be in the ministry, or a committed Christian at all, if I did not believe that God can change hearts, that God can transform unjust and broken systems, and that finally, God’s kingdom will come and God’s will will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Thus I enter into Advent every year full of expectation — that the magic of the Christmas story will awaken cynical and discouraged hearts and that the living Christ will capture persons and transform them into his own image. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And I never open the calendar pages of the New Year without the lively expectation that the people of God can transform systems — cultural, economic and governmental — into the Jubilee reality of God’s Reign, “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
As for the life of our congregation, I anticipate the inspiring worship experiences of Advent and Christmas with great joy, and the prospect of deep and serious reinvisioning of our congregational identity, purpose and strategy in the New Year fills me with great hope. We are not simply a function of our demographics, or of our past stature and achievements, as praiseworthy as some of these achievements have been. Our future is in God’s hands.
I am expecting a great 2013 for First Baptist Church, Portland, and for our newly reconfigured region, the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast. I hope that you are too.
–Dr. David L. Wheeler