by John Killinger
What are you expecting for Christmas this year? Smoke curling from chimneys into cold skies and bare trees standing like sentinels watching for Santa Claus with his sleigh full of toys? A tall fir tree bedecked with soft colored lights and trinkets and candy canes? The smell of Christmas cookies wafting through the house, and the sound of bells and carols on the stereo? Children hanging their stockings on the mantle, or, if the stockings have gotten too large and the gifts too plentiful, laying them on the hearth by a blazing fire?
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It is easy to think of Christmas images, isn’t it, because there is no season of the year so full of nostalgia and ripe with expectation. It takes a Scrooge, with a heart of stone, not to become excited about the approach of this joyous occasion. Visions of sugar plums or their contemporary equivalent—dance in all our heads.
But I wonder, have you ever been disappointed by Christmas? Did you expect something Christmas that didn’t materialize? Maybe you were looking for a bonus in your pay envelope that wasn’t there or expecting somebody home who didn’t arrive or anticipating something, a mood or a feeling, that never quite came to you. Maybe you didn’t receive a present you were looking for—the doll you had seen in the toy shop or the drum set that would have driven Mom and Dad crazy or the microwave oven you had hinted about for months.…
Christmas can be that way. We can build up such impossible hopes and dreams that it can’t possibly fulfill them. That is one reason people often feel depressed when Christmas is over. They have lived for days in a state of perpetual excitation, expecting something to happen; and, when it doesn’t, they feel sad and let down.
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That’s too bad because you know what the real message of Christmas is about? It’s about what we don’t expect. That’s right. Christmas isn’t about what we expect; it’s about what we don’t expect.
Think about it. Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t expect to have a baby in their old age. Mary didn’t expect to become the mother of the Son of God. She couldn’t believe it when the angel told her. “Why, I’m not even married,” she said. Joseph didn’t expect his young bride to be pregnant. Herod didn’t expect to be disturbed by word of the Child. The shepherds didn’t expect to see angels in their fields. The Magi didn’t expect to find the Savior of the world born in a manger in a poor little country village like Bethlehem. The whole thing was a surprise. God surprised everybody that first Christmas.
And when you think about Jesus’ teachings, you realize that surprise is in the nature of who God is. God is full of surprises.
The meek shall inherit the earth. Think about that. That’s really a surprise, isn’t it? When you look around and see the people who shove and push and talk the loudest getting ahead of everybody else, you wonder about the meek.
The first shall be last and the last first. That’s another corker. The high and the mighty going into heaven behind the low and the poor.…
You see, it isn’t a matter of what we’re expecting for Christmas. It’s what we don’t expect. That’s what we ought to be looking for, what we don’t expect because that’s the way God is. God is a God of surprises.
I don’t have anything against traditional Christmas celebrations. In fact, I love them. I enjoy the trees and lights and Christmas pageants and music and presents and all the rest. But we ought to realize that God may have some surprises in store for us this Christmas. God may not come to us in the old familiar ways. God may speak to us in some new event, in some place where we least expect it.
The surprises of God! We never know where they are or when they are coming. But the word of the gospel is that they are and that they do come. And this is what Christmas is all about.
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