I was perhaps six years old. Someone, my mother or older sister, helped me write a letter to Santa Claus around Thanksgiving. I had only one Christmas wish: a Lionel 1405W Three Car Freight Set. I was hoping for even more…enough tracks and tunnels for Dad’s work table in the basement. But I knew better than to be too greedy; other features to compete with my cousin Donny’s awesome set would come later.
When I saw a huge box near the tree in the living room that Christmas morning I was ecstatic! I tore off the wrapping paper and ripped open the box to discover, not the Lionel train set of my dreams, but a deluxe set of tinker toys!
It wasn’t what I had expected; it wasn’t what I had asked Santa for. It was a gift – just not the one I had wanted. Eventually disappointment gave way to a child’s imagination as I crafted a five car train set – out of the tinker toys. I have always suspected that outcome was probably what my parents had in mind.
But there was an even greater lesson to be learned by that experience: Life is like that sometimes. We hope for something and it’s not always what we expected it to be. This job isn’t turning out to be all that it was cracked up to be. That relationship isn’t as loving as I had hoped. This person isn’t living up to my expectations.
On this First Sunday of Advent when the Scriptures ask us to be on guard, to wait, to look for the coming of the Lord, our liturgy focuses on expectations. So we ask ourselves “What is it we are looking for?” “Will the reality live up to the expectations?”
What does our experience teach us? Like that eager six year-old, perhaps we need to realize that sometimes our hopes are met in ways we least expect: learning to use our imagination, doing the best we can with whatever we are given. These are lessons that both young and old alike could use in these challenging times.
Some of the people of Jesus’ time looked for a political leader; others hoped for the one who would renew the religious dynasty. Instead they got a rebel who questioned the authority of the religious establishment and reaffirmed the essence of 613 commandments in two very basic ones: love God and love neighbor. They looked for a Messiah and got a man crucified as a common criminal. They looked for royalty and got a friend of prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.
As the world today faces radical changes we look for signs of hope. We look to new leadership for solutions to overwhelming issues. We look for signs of hope in our families, in our relationships, our work, in our church. Remarkably, what all these have in common is you and I. Perhaps what we are looking for is present within us. Perhaps we should substitute a letter to Santa with some concrete resolutions for this new church year: resolutions that reshape the world we live it to be more like the one envisioned by the Christ.
We are looking forward to something better – can we make it happen?