Come back in time with me. Hear Burl Ives singing, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”
I was probably five years old when I first heard this song. I was in a department store, Christmas shopping with my mother. The words struck home because I really wanted Santa to bring me an electric train for Christmas—a Lionel train with a switchbox to make the train go forward and backward and “smoke tablets.” You dropped those white aspirin-like tablets in the engine smokestack and they produced real smoke as the train chugged along. Yes, Santa was expecting me to be good. OK. I got that. But I had high expectations of him, too. If I were good, he was to do his part—deliver an electric train on Christmas Eve.
At that age it was hard for me to distinguish between Santa Claus and God. Often the two seemed to be one and the same. Certainly, God knew when I was sleeping or awake. He knew when I’d been bad or good. God knows everything. Right? Apparently, Santa did too. That was many years ago.
It’s now Christmas of 2017. I’m an adult. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I really should find it easy to expect goodness, especially during Advent. After all, I know that Jehovah God is about to do something spectacular. From the realms of glory, God is going to throw open the gates of heaven and send His Son into the world, not to condemn but to save. Heaven is reaching down, boldly and lovingly, like never before.
As Methodists, we celebrate Advent to give us time to come to expect goodness, days to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. But how do we do that?
In an uncertain world, sometimes it is hard to have an “expect goodness” mindset. How can we live out our lives expecting goodness when there are tragic accidents, devastating hurricanes, ghastly medical diagnoses, betrayals within families, and so on? How can we bring ourselves to expect goodness?
To begin with, we worship a triune God who loves each of us, loves us with a fierce, unrelenting love. As God said in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Joshua reminds us, “God will never leave you or forsake you.” Paul wrote, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This kind of love isn’t come-and-go. It isn’t conditional on our being good. It is here… forever.
I see repeatedly proof that the followers of the Babe of Bethlehem are responding to God’s goodness. We witness it in our church. I see it in the herculean efforts of our members for Hurricane Harvey victims. I see it in the faces of the children in their activities. I see it in the transformation of our youth as they come to know our Savior. I see it in hospital visits by our laity. I see it over and over and over. Because we worship and follow a loving God, we should expect goodness. God has proven His goodness in the past—God, Immanuel, God with us and for us.
Today I know the difference between God and Santa. Santa puts conditions on our expectations. God does not. We can expect goodness from God every day. We can give thanks to God in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.
We expect goodness when we practice our five habits: We pray. We study our Bible. We make friends. We tell our stories. We give ourselves away in generosity and service.
During this month let’s join the angel choirs. Let’s sing along with them, “Glory to God. Glory to God. Glory to God in the highest.”