Expectant Optimism: Damien Tann
by Damien Tann, Kaniva, Victoria
What to expect when you’re not expecting.
Well, that's a closed conversation: if you aren't expecting anything, then you don't have anything to expect.
That makes for a great essay from me: "what do you expect?" "Nothing." Devotion over, thanks for reading, Merry Christmas.
But that's not how it works. Not just that I'm supposed to fill a page once a quarter for my church's magazine, so a paragraph won't cut it; the truth is that even if you don't have expectation in life, that doesn't mean that world events won't still happen. They will happen, and you'll be caught out, so, at the very least, we must "expect the unexpected"; it's safer that way.
In preparing the December 2022 pew sheet for my congregations, I wrote about expectation; that we should be coming to church on a Sunday with expectancy and missing church on Sunday with regret. If you come, you'll be blessed; if you don't come, you'll miss out. I wonder if we really think that. Well, I asked that in the pew sheet, so I'll leave you to find it online and read it there (except during my sermon, or you'll miss out).
In Matthew 11, we find Jesus speaking to the crowd about John the Baptiser, and three times he asks them, "(so) what did you expect to see". Not only does he repeat the question, but Jesus also provides silly answers; "did you go out to the wilderness expecting to see a man in fine robes" is one example. In the December pew sheet (I'm not talking about it here because I talked about it there), I didn't ask what my congregations expect to see when they come to church because I'm not sure I want to hear the answer. In truth, I'm afraid the answer might be "meh, not much, same-old, y'know, mates, biscuits, meh". A Sunday without expectation is a Sunday you can afford to miss because there's nothing to miss.
Pastor Craig Groeschel said, "optimism is the unwavering expectation that our loving God is working in every situation for our future good."
I wonder, as the pastor of a congregation much smaller than any one of the life.Church campuses and serving in a town smaller than even the suburb of the city where Pastor Craig lives, what I can add to such a statement,
Support, for certain, I agree with his sentiment; but more than that is the experience of seeing happen what Pastor Craig is describing.
I am Optimistic in God because I have seen God exceed my expectations for my and my congregations' benefit.
Expectation in most things is built on anticipation. I am not thinking of these as synonyms: one means "what I think will happen", and one means "I am excited about what I think will happen". I had low expectation for the AFL Grand Final this year, even as a Geelong supporter, because I've seen the Cats stuff it up on the big stage before. I had no anticipation, no excitement because I felt a sense of disappointment on the horizon. As it was, Geelong shone on the day, and Sydney, well, you can read the previous sentence. As a neutral AFL fan, the annual anticipation approaching that one day in September gets me in the mood because I enjoy finals football even when Geelong aren't playing. (Probably more.) There's the Grand Final Parade and the Friday holiday. On Saturday, we get the fly past of The Roulettes, the handing down of the jerseys and the parade of champions, the concert by Meatloaf, and the roar (OMG, that MCG roar!) as the clock hits 2:20 and the Sherrin hits the turf. My September expectation is built upon anticipation and memory: I had seen Geelong do the last Saturday in September in 2007 and 2009, but I had also seen them do that day in 2008.
Expectancy in congregational worship is built in prayer, singing, anticipation, and memory. It does not have to be smoke machines, blondes on stage, laser lights, or keytars. A congregation entering the gathering place should not need hyping-up, but what they find upon entry should meet their expectation of being invited to worship God. If you have come to church expecting to meet God, then whatever happens from the front (sides, door, cry space) should make that happen. We sing to remind ourselves that God is here, and so are we, and we are happy and awestruck at that thought. We pray because we have heard that God loves us, so we pray thanks, and we pray sorrow, and we pray to need with expectation (anticipation?) that God will hear and respond. We gather at the table of grace, recalling Christ's death and our life in the one moment. We read the scriptures, hear the sermon, reflect upon what God has said to us in all of these things, and hit 10:30 (as the 9:30 service ends) with anticipation. Don't we?
If you expect nothing from Sunday, that's what you'll get out of it as an attendee. If you expect nothing from Sunday, that's what you'll put into it as a lead worshipper, preacher, reader, or singer: and that's what attendees will be led to get out of it.
So I do not wish you a "mehry" Christmas: neither the Advent season nor Jesus the Saviour is about that. Not at all. In December expect the much expected.
Damian Tann is the Minister in Placement (Pastor) for Uniting Church in Australia, in shared ministry with the Churches of Christ (Vic-Tas), at Kaniva and Serviceton in West Wimmera, Victoria.