Expecting the Divine

First Sunday after Epiphany | Luke 3:15-22

Expecting the Divine

Luke claims that the people were filled with expectation. What a remarkable condition — an entire people looking forward, looking beyond themselves, expecting something, expecting the divine.

We don’t have to believe it, of course. Surely, not everyone was expecting a savior. It is hard to imagine everyone expecting anything — Christmas, an election, the sun rising. It is even harder to imagine everyone expecting the same thing, and so unlikely a thing as a messiah.

Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Dürer
Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Dürer

Perhaps in some different way it was true. Luke could have meant that his sort of people, the ones inclined to think about religious things, that all of these people were excited and thinking of a coming messiah, wondering about John the Baptist, thinking that John could be the one, though he denied it. He was certainly unusual enough, and he talked a lot about God and faith and repentance. He almost fit the bill.

Maybe it was true another way. Most of us are looking for something, expecting something or someone, hoping for something. Could the thing we are hoping for be some sort of messiah? Whether we define it in theological terms or not, are we hoping for something to save us, someone to save us, whether literally or figuratively?

Carl Jung wrote of archetypes, those powerful ideas, symbols, living deep in the unconscious regions of our minds—shadow, mother, trickster, hero, god. Surely a messiah qualifies? Someone to save us, god and hero and wise man in one, though the thing we are saved from varies?

Some of us want to be saved from despair, or grief, or regret. Others long to be rescued from the tedium of day to day life. Psychologists speak of needs and drives and behaviors, supplying language for our traps, cages, deficiencies, determination, desires. Just today I heard an economist talking about envy, envy of all things, as an economic force. To my mind, envy is something addressed by theology, not economists, but it makes sense as a economic principle as well.

What the ancients called sin and hubris, we call behavioral faults, to be expected in the natural order of the universe. Never mind that the natural order of the universe is violent, dangerous, ruthless, and unforgiving. Our modern comprehension of our place in the cosmos has been massively enriched, but at the same time our insight is shattered into kaleidoscopic and often bewildering bits.

Perhaps there is too much division, too much breaking up of knowledge into categories, separate rooms, disintegration. Not so long ago human lives were defined and molded by tribe or king or religion. Now we listen to voices of economists, politicians, doctors, scientists, fast food, gourmet food, all natural food, social media, real estate agents, bankers, automobile commercials, and the two hour window when a cable technician can hook up our televisions. With so many voices in our heads, it is hard to know which ones are important, which ones should get our attention. We are driving ourselves toward insanity.

The Adoration of the Magi by Leonaert Bramer
The Adoration of the Magi by Leonaert Bramer

We need something to save us from all of that, but our expectations are low.

The Christian celebration known as Epiphany is named for the showing, the revealing, of the Christ child. Some wise men found a child, caught sight of a symbol from the deepest parts of their minds, a savior figure, the messiah. They came, in the stories, with the expectation of finding him, and they did. So do we understand that the magi found the messiah because that is what they were sent to do, or did they find him because they expected him?

We call into being the things we expect. Expectations are powerful, connecting us to the divine in our hopes and dreams and aspirations. To live in expectation of redemption is an experience of faith, the practical application of hope.

What a remarkable way to live — expecting to experience the divine in our everyday lives.


Part of the Lectionary Project—Third year of weekly posts based on the Sunday Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary