I’m no fan of cats. In fact, I think you can split the population into two groups. There are cat lovers and people like me.
So, there I was on my birthday a few years back, opening my gifts with a sense of anticipation. I had asked for a few special treats and then I came to this nicely wrapped big box. As I tore the paper the box seemed to move and yes, you know what’s coming. As I opened the box there was a four-week-old white ragdoll kitten.
“Surprise” my kids called out! “Surprise, we got you a kitten.” This was in fact code for “Dad we all really wanted a kitten, so we got you one for your birthday.”
Yes, that was a very unexpected surprise. It was something I wasn’t expecting. Despite my best efforts I didn’t become a feline lover and I don’t think I ever will.
As we approach Christmas for another year we find ourselves in a season where so often familiarity can rob us from experiencing something new.
Henri Nouwen wrote that Christmas is so often wrapped up in tradition, emotion and sentiment, and with this emphasis we can lose sight of the opportunity that the Advent season presents each one of us to experience something new from the God behind Christmas.
In reality, the Christmas message is a disturbing one.
God breaks into human history in the most surprising way. The Incarnation is full of surprises. God becomes flesh; Jesus, the Son of God, is born to poor parents in the backwater of a Bethlehem stable. The voice of God is encountered by ordinary people like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, shepherds and an inn keeper and their lives will never be the same again. Even the elite, like the Magi, are radically surprised when they follow the star to the stable.
A quirky friend of mine sent me a Christmas card a few years back that is hard to forget. There was no sanitised Christmas nativity or northern hemisphere snow images on the front cover. It simply had a full black cover with a very small white dot on the page. And I opened the card to read this message: “May the reality of the Incarnation disturb your comfort and surprise your world again this Christmas”.
No, it wasn’t a card that would sell big at the shops. It was all too real and confronting, but I loved it! I still do. It reminds me that Jesus didn’t come 2000 years ago to maintain the status quo. He came to redeem the world; to redeem my life; to open the door to hope; to new possibilities, new opportunities, new thinking, to call people to counter-cultural Kingdom living.
A young couple full of hopes and dreams have their lives turned upside down when the voice of God breaks into their world. Mary humbly and obediently makes herself available for God’s plans and purposes. Joseph moves out of his comfort zone and enters new territory, embracing God’s future for his life, abandoning his plans to embrace God’s life-transforming agenda.
At the heart of the Incarnation message is a surprising God.
Two thousand years ago, so many who longed for the Messiah missed Jesus’ coming because their lives were closed to surprises; they were closed to God moving in new and unexpected ways. Jesus’ arrival didn’t fit the script of the Jewish religious leaders. They were stuck in their “religious box” and they missed God breaking into human history. They missed the “more” God had for them.
This December are we ready for our Emmanuel God to surprise us? Are we open to being disturbed? Have we become stuck in our comfort zones and like the religious leaders of old, might we be missing out on the new things that God has for our lives, relationships, marriages, families, vocations and ministries?
I will happily pass on unwrapping another kitten, but I do want to be open to the new things, to the surprises God still has in store for me.
When God breaks into our lives afresh it can be challenging, stretching and costly, just ask Mary and Joseph. But, when we are open to God doing new things, when we are open to God’s surprises we position ourselves for the “more” Jesus has for each one of us – we open the door to the adventure of faith, the potential of new beginnings, the possibilities of Kingdom living and serving, the reality of hopes and dreams beyond our imagination.
You may want to join me this Christmas in praying: “Come Lord Jesus come; come afresh into my life and world. Here I am ready and available. Surprise me, use me!”