Waiting and the Unexpected
We have all heard that Advent is a season of waiting, a time for reflection and preparation. But some of us have a difficult time waiting. And it seems this year that we are waiting for a lot.
I grew up in a family of six children, 5 boys and a girl. You will understand the family dynamics with that type of gender mix. One Christmas season our parents told us we needed to clean the entire basement as our uncle was coming to bring us a Christmas present. This was no small task, as the basement was our main large activity play space. As we cleaned, my brothers and I talked about what could be so big that it would take the whole basement. We had visions of race car tracks or trainsets, or even real go-karts. Our sister had visions of a life-size doll house, a vision we quickly dismissed as not really appropriate for all of us.
When the time arrived for the presentation of the gift, it was totally unexpected. It did not fit into any of our dreams and schemes. It was a new puppy. Not all of us were as excited about this gift as others.
Waiting means expectation, but what about the unexpected. There is a tv advertisement for a local furniture store that shows two kids in wide-eyed amazement at the enormous gift in front of them. As the boy presses the button next to the gift the box lifts off revealing a new overstuffed chair. The disappointment on their faces is quite evident as this did not live up to their expectations.
We have all seen the videos on social media that show a military parent surprising their child. They are either wrapped up in a large box, or sometimes they are wearing the school mascot uniform. It is amazing and tear inducing to see their reaction when this gift, or character, turns out to be something totally different than they expected. When we wait, things do not always happen as we expect them to.
In the Bible, the people of God were familiar with waiting. It seems that they were always waiting for a sign from God or a miracle or some major intervention. The Bible, however, is filled with examples of God’s intervention in unexpected ways.
Abraham was asked to offer Isaac the promised heir, as a sacrifice. Moses the stutterer was asked to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Even the escape from Egypt was completely unconventional. There were the walls of Jericho, Jonah and the great fish, Elijah and the false prophets, the widow’s oil and grain. These are all events the people of Jesus’ day would be familiar with. Examples of God doing mighty things in ways that were unexpected.
The Christmas story is filled with the unexpected, juxtaposed to the long-held expectations. There were many ideas about who the messiah would be and how he would come and what he would do, and the Christmas story did not fit any of them.
Joseph, Mary, the innkeeper, shepherds, wise men, King Herod, the baby himself. Nothing was as expected, but exactly what God intended. We see this reflected in the words of the Apostle Paul found in Galatians 4:4-5 (ESV) 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. It was according to God’s plan, not the expectations of others.
The ministry of Jesus, as Messiah, would bring sight to the blind, healing to the lame, hope to the hopeless. This rescue, this kingdom was not what was expected, but what the world so desperately needed. And still needs today.
This year has not been what any of us has expected. In fact, there has been an abundance of the unexpected. Worldwide pandemic, political tension, social unrest, economic challenges, wearing a mask into the bank and not getting arrested. The list of the unexpected is almost endless. In fact, if we spend too much time thinking about it, we might get overwhelmed. We have learned to ”pivot” in response e to the ever changing conditions around us.
Often when God was about to do something unexpected his messenger begins the message with the command “Don’t be afraid” or “Fear not”. Sometimes this seems a bit ironic given the situation. But this is an indication of how God wants us to respond to the unexpected – do not fear. In fact, we can be encouraged by the fact that looking back at God’s interaction with humanity throughout history we will often find that many of his greatest acts, most miraculous moments were when he did the unexpected.
So, amid the reality of 2020, we need to look for God in the unexpected. This does not downplay the seriousness of the current world situation or the magnitude of hurt and pain. Many of us will know people impacted by the challenges of today. Some of us have even lost family members, friends or loved ones. However, we need to remember that we can find hope and help in looking for God even in this. It may not always be easy to see or immediately recognizable, but God is there, in the middle of the unexpected. After all, Christmas is all about Immanuel, God with us!