The only surprises I like are good ones … and the best one of all is yet to come! We’re smack in the middle of Advent, the season of heavenly surprise. Advent means “coming” and therefore we celebrate the first coming of Christ. However, it is also when we anticipate the second Advent, when Jesus comes again!
Advent is at the root of adventure. When Jesus first arrived He entered a world at war, a world torn apart with conflict socially, politically and militarily. Things were in a mess, and as the Messiah He entered right into the middle of that mess. He’s done the same thing every Christmas since, and He still does. God does His best work when least expected. Just when we are confronted with the pain, grief and ugliness of life, we’re surprised that we are not alone. He is here. As we’re reminded in the Message paraphrase of John’s Gospel: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.
Christmas is a reminder that the curse will be reversed.
I just spoke with a woman whose husband suddenly died of sepsis. She and her family are rocked with grief. In that brief call I reminded them that their grief and loss didn’t ruin Christmas; rather, their heartache is a reminder of the reason for it. We all need the Savior!
Every Christmas we’re reminded again that the salvation of the world doesn’t depend upon us. I just read a column from Michael Gerson with The Washington Post and appreciated what he had to say about Advent:
“The most reassuring message of the season is the existence of hope does not depend on us. It does not rely on our virtue or wisdom. It is delivered from elsewhere.
“The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer - compared Advent to a prison cell ‘in which one waits and hopes and does various unessential things … but is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.’ The Advent narratives are filled with waiting people: Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna. They lived in patient expectation, and were receptive to the Good News when it arrived. Their hope did not come as the result of a battle. It came like a seed planted in the ground. Like a child growing within his mother.
“We are not the heroes of the story. Our contribution is to be watchful and open. But hope arrives in awesome humility. God is with us. Jesus is with us. This is everything.”
God loves to surprise His people, and His people love to surprise others in His name. Yesterday the doorbell rang and we were surprised to discover that it wasn’t just another Amazon delivery. The special surprise was a box of homemade Christmas cookies delivered by our neighbor. That simple gift brought with it a spark of joy on a cold and dreary day. Life is like that. Most days are punctuated with reminders large and small that love abounds and that God is near.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord. We must live on alert to His coming through family and friends, through what we read and watch, through what we hear and see. The Lord is coming, always coming. Every moment is one of potential surprise.
As Oswald Chambers said: “Be ready for the sudden surprise visits of God.” That’s why I’m praying daily to be alert to Advent surprises and to be an agent of them. “Lord, help me to see and to seize and to celebrate your Advent interruptions with great joy!
“Come Lord Jesus!”