This Advent at Calvary we’ve been worshipping with the theme The Unexpected Season. Through four weeks of Advent we’ve explored Unexpected Paths, Unexpected Prophets, Unexpected People and this Sunday . . . Unexpected Promises. I came up with this theme together with my friend and colleague, Lia Scholl, and to be honest I didn’t know how it would turn out.
Turns out this has been a season of unexpected blessing, framed by the invitation to look for God’s unexpected grace in all the unexpected places in my life and in our lives together as a community of faith. Here’s my December newsletter column that started us off on this Advent journey:
Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old that I rarely find surprises under the Christmas tree anymore.
Aside from the fact that I am usually one of the individuals tasked with PUTTING the surprises under the tree (thus if I were to put one there for myself it would not be a surprise . . . ), there’s something about the awareness and responsibility of adulthood that steals the “mouth-gaping-open-in-utter-surprise” sort of reaction from me every Christmas morning these days.
The irony of all of this, of course, is that as the secular celebrations have begun to lose their element of surprise for me, the real reason we celebrate Christmas increasingly causes me to startle.
That is, the longer I make my way on this path of life, the more God takes me by surprise. The work of God, in this world . . . in my life . . . much of the time it’s all so unexpected.
Isn’t this what we celebrate in the hush of the manger and the still quiet of a starry night? The miraculous gift of God’s grace, a gift that cannot be packaged, marketed, wrapped up and predictably placed under a tinsel-y tree? Such an unexpected surprise!
I do love Charles Wesley’s beautiful Advent hymn, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart … but I really wonder if Mr. Wesley got it right.
Was Jesus what we humans expected to find “under the tree”?
A carpenter, from Galilee? Homeless, poor? Born in a stable, forever raising the hackles of the Establishment? Offending everyone important and embracing everyone unwanted? Killed by an oppressive government regime? Jesus, Savior of the World … long expected? No, I think everything about this Christmas gift, about Jesus the Christ, is rather UNEXPECTED, don’t you?
Our God is forever surprising us, we should know by now, and that in itself is a gift. If God were easily packaged and routinely predictable then we’d live in a world where everything remained the same, where there’d be nothing new and surprising under the tree, where all we might expect from human life are the same old situations over and over: poverty, hunger, inequity, pain.
No, this Christmas, I think we should get ready for a surprise. Remember our gift is something wildly unexpected, Jesus the Christ, God’s kingdom come here on earth, as it is in heaven: Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king, born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
Wouldn’t that be the best surprise of all? This Christmas, may it be so.
Blessed and Unexpected Christmas to You and Yours,