By Deacon Scott D. Gilfillan
Reflection on the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord
The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts… (Luke 3:15)
“The people were filled with expectation.” This is how the gospel reading for the Sunday celebration of The Baptism of the Lord begins.
It seems like a foreign phrase, “filled with expectation.” If someone were to ask me, “How are you feeling?” I doubt I would respond, “I’m filled with expectation.”
My guess is that it would be the same for most people. Christmas is receding in the rearview mirror. Maybe there are a few decorations to put away and a few bills to pay, but most have probably slipped back into the workaday world, maybe even the drudgery of daily life, and probably not “filled with expectation.”
I look around. The Covid virus is spiking again. Ugh. I look ahead. I realize 2022 is an election year. Ugh, Ugh. I look at the news. I see reports of shortages, inflation, employment issues. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. It’s a stark reminder that to be ‘filled with expectation’ means I need to redirect my vision to places that indeed fill me with expectation. I need to redirect my vision to what God is doing in the world, not what I’m hearing on the news.
Being filled with expectation is a core Christian virtue. It is no coincidence that the Church begins and ends the Christmas season repeating the same gospel passage, “The people were filled with expectation.” (3rd Sunday Advent and Baptism of the Lord) Entering the Christmas season “filled with expectation” is natural. We’re about to celebrate a birth, the birth of our Savior no less! But ending the season and entering ordinary time “filled with expectation…”. That’s a puzzler, maybe a challenge.
Out of curiosity, I Googled “What does it feel like to be filled with expectation?” Three links to YouTube videos appeared. One had a picture of a pregnant woman and the title, “2 weeks pregnant, what to expect.” The next was had a picture of a man in a dentist’s chair with the title, “How does a dentist fill a cavity?” The third had a picture of a mansion and a title, “What’s it like to be a billionaire in Australia?”
I can understand a pregnant mother being filled with expectation. But getting a cavity filled fills me with dread. Thinking about billionaires fills me with envy.
A mother who is with child, however, is a good image. She has a certain expectation. Aside from the discomfort, there are hopes and dreams. What is the child going to look like? What will be his or her name? Are the movements in the womb telling me something about this child’s personality? Expectation in the example of a mother means something surprising and miraculous is going to happen, yet the mother is still pondering the details in her heart.
The people in the gospel were filled with expectation. It might have been similar to the expectation of a mother in the early stages of pregnancy. In the case of the New Testament people, their expectation meant that God is about to bring something surprising and wonderful into this world. They were not sure what or how or when. But they were filled with the expectation that somehow, in some miraculous way, God’s promises would be fulfilled.
Is it possible for us to recapture some of this expectation, shoring up our belief that God is about to knock us out of our drudgery and do something surprising in our lives?
Expectation in reality is a virtue to practice. Being filled with expectation means eradicating our lives of being filled with dread (like the dentist) or filled with envy (of the billionaire), or filled with any number of other toxic human emotions: discouragement, worry, doubt, anger, division, and vengeance.
Emmanuel means, “God is with us.” And God is filled with surprises. Try entering each day with the expectation that God is going to do something surprising in your life. It might be something delightful, it might be a much-needed course correction, or it might be an invitation for you to bring light and life to a person God has put into your life. Look for it. As God said through the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (43:19)