Who can forget the misery of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations after her lover walked out on their wedding day? She stopped the clocks in her house at the exact time she was jilted and she began a mission of misery. She had great expectations that were horribly crushed. Jesus was born into a culture of great expectations. We read of the expectant hope in Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and Anna. Could the One who born of Mary be the promised Messiah? Fantastic expectations were tied to the arrival of “the anointed one.”
One word rings out: redemption. This pregnant term reveals what the early receivers of the birth announcements expected. They expected great liberation from hard powers so that Israel would be free to worship God as God should be worshiped. The boot of the Roman Empire on their necks will disappear. When Messiah comes, wrongs will be made right and oppressive powers will surrender to Israel’s God. Yet, God seems to have a problem. How will God enter the world in Jesus, the anointed one, and not endorse the nation’s grandiose ideas? How will God not live up to the people’s great expectations? The nation expected an-Almighty-God-power-play resulting in the humiliation of Rome and the exaltation of Israel. The Messiah’s mission was cast in a politico-military sense. How could God both fulfill the prophetic word and squeeze all the vengeance out of Israel’s national psyche? In his public ministry, Jesus continued to address and change Israel’s skewed expectations entrenched in his own disciples’ hearts.
God gets to the task immediately in the birth narratives of Jesus. We must erase our idyllic Christmas card versions of Jesus’ birth. The donkey and the manger and the “no room in the inn” stuff. It’s easy to misread God’s intention in these very things. Unless God changes the expectations the people have for the Messiah, the more they will misunderstand his public ministry, teachings and death. Israel will miss his mission.
Jesus is born in Bethlehem (cf. Micah 5:2). Bethlehem had royal energy in its history. King David was from Bethlehem. So, while a little town, Bethlehem had great, even royal meaning. There is no room in the crowded houses as people traveled to fulfill Caesar’s census (Luke 2:1-4). Darrell Bock suggests that Bethlehem was too small to even have a travelers inn. Jesus, the new king (Matthew 2:2), is born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough. This is Bethlehem. It is far from royalty and power. What is God doing? God is transforming expectations.
Miss Havisham has a moment of repentance and confesses her sin to Pip. Most of Israel never got the clues that began with Jesus’ birth and continued throughout his ministry. Few repented. The nation maintained its stubborn grasp on great expectations. They thought Jesus was an imposter. You may have expectations of God, too. I suppose we all do. If our expectations, no matter how great, do not sync with God’s purpose, we will be disappointed, perhaps even angry. We might end up shouting in our own ways, “We have no king but Caesar.” Let’s allow God to reign supreme, even over our expectations of God.