Pregnant women are sometimes called “expectant mothers”. With Eileen about seven weeks away from her due date, I’m learning what it means to be an expectant father. And that’s teaching me some lessons about the life of seeking Christ.
Expectancy manifests in two ways: preparedness and watchfulness. Preparedness consists of doing all one can to set the stage, to be ready for the arrival of what one expects. Expecting guests, we clean the house, sweep the floors, straighten up whatever is in disarray. But then there comes a point when the preparations seem complete. All that’s left is to wait for the guest to arrive. Watchfulness is the attitude one adopts in that time of waiting. We listen to every sound to hear if it’s a car pulling up. Quietness, stillness, and the fact that chaos has just been put in order, come together to create an opportunity for peaceful waiting. Preparedness is a necessary precursor to watchfulness.
With a baby on the way, I see us taking steps toward both preparedness and watchfulness. Baby Brown’s room is almost ready. There’s new paint on the walls, the crib is set up, stuffed animals are already lined up on one shelf. We’re scoping our routes to the birth center, looking for the best routes for each time of day and traffic condition. Soon we’ll have all the requisite equipment that babies require in this world. Of course, a new parent is never fully ready, buy we’re doing the little we can do and know how to do. And we’re becoming more watchful, too. Eileen spends lots of time watching the movements Baby makes, perceptible as they are through her belly. When Eileen points at Baby’s movements to get me to watch, I half-expect her to tell me she just had a contraction. This keeps me on the alert. After a long day, I think twice about relaxing with a beer, lest I be drowsy when her labor begins. Baby’s arrival should still be weeks away, but I’m contemplating packing a bag now.
Jesus calls us to this sort of expectancy in our relationship with Him. Soon we’ll enter the liturgical season of Advent, where we renew our expectancy of the Lord’s return. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus likens his followers to servants awaiting the return of their master (13:33-37). Saying that the master could come at any time, He warns that we should “keep on the alert” or “watch.” Lest this be misinterpreted, I should say here that I don’t think we’re living in the “end times”. I don’t subscribe to interpretations of scripture that try to decode when Jesus is coming back. But I do think we need to heed these commands to be watchful. What He said is pretty clear: We don’t know what Christ’s return looks like or when it will happen, but we should live with expectant hearts.
So how are we to live with holy expectancy? Even if millennia pass before Christ returns, I believe we can expect to see God move in our lives on a smaller scale every day. But we have to pay attention. Preparedness comes before watchfulness. What in our hearts needs to be swept and put in order, just in case the Visitor comes? Are we investing time, energy, and resources in the Kingdom we await, or in the pursuits of a worldly life? If we think things are in order, are we listening? Who in our lives is poking us, taking us to watch, to stay awake to the reality that life is about to change? Are we listening to the voices that call us to be alert, or surrounding ourselves with distractions? Whatever we’re doing, are we open to the interruptions God may throw our way? Jesus said to His disciples, “What I say to you, I say to all, ‘Watch!'” May He grant us the grace of watching with expectant hearts.