January 3, 2007
The Mystery of Expectancy
After two very different weeks--one spent relaxing before Christmas with my parents and sister in a small Pennsylvania town and the other working at the Urbana Student Missions Convention in downtown St. Louis with 22,000 people--I'm wondering the same thing: How can we be expectant without knowing what to expect?
I had a lot of time for reflection in Pennsylvania, particularly (since it was Christmas) reflection on Christ's birth. The story is, of course, full of expectancy. Births generally are. But how much more with Jesus' birth, coming as it did in the midst of Herod's reign after thousands of years of expectant waiting (not to mention four hundred years of silence from God). But the Israelites' hopes about what the Messiah would be like were, of course, full of error. Everything about Christ's birth was utterly unexpected--redemption in places you'd never guess. A virgin. A poor carpenter. A stable. Shepherds. A baby.
In ways not so different from Christ's birth, Urbana is also full of expectancy. I studied students' faces as they streamed into the opening session at the Edward Jones Dome. They were clearly expecting God to do--something.
How can we be expectant of a God who moves and acts in completely unpredictable ways and places? How should we expect a God whose presence comes in both "a gentle whisper" on a mountain and a burning bush in the desert to reveal himself to us?
Though Jews were looking for a Messiah when Jesus was born, many missed him because they expected someone different. I'm afraid that I too will miss the redemption he gives--that in the midst of my pain or distractedness or despair or busyness I'll miss the grace that comes quietly, humbly, unexpectedly, even if I'm looking for it.
Expectancy seems to hold the hope of something big. At past Urbanas I know God has shown up in unexpected, even miraculous ways. Once he even healed a speaker's laryngitis while the speaker talked and the thousands of students gathered in the arena prayed for him. When I attended Urbana as a student I too went expectantly. I received no epiphanies, yet God still brings to mind words and moments from that Urbana, and continues his work in me through them. I don't know if my expectations were met, but God has certainly moved in the years since.
At the start of 2007, after a year-and-a-half that's been full of personal struggle, I am trying to be expectant. I recently read in Philip Yancey's book Prayer that "[Jesus] understood that redemption comes from passing through the pain, not avoiding it: 'for the joy set before him [he] endured the cross.'" I also just read Psalm 5, written by David, with his high highs and his low lows:
In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
The story of Christ's birth and death, and Yancey's reminder, and David's prayer, and 22,000 students gathered together to seek God, give me hope for this year. When God moves in big ways in obvious places, we'll probably notice. But for the rest of the time (which is most of the time) when God is not speaking through thunder or fire or miraculous healings, maybe the fact of expectancy, the act of being still and waiting in the midst of hard moments, the choice to trust God in a day that's unknown, will help us see his redemption in the unexpected places: the painful places, the broken places, the humble places.
So here's to a year of expectancy and meeting God in the places we are (I'm raising my cup of chai to you). And thanks, to Dave and to all of you, for letting me join this Strangely Dim journey. I look forward to walking with you . . .