Expect the Unexpected

A high school friend of mine, yesterday, made an interesting observation on Facebook about this time of year. She said she wanted a bumper sticker that proclaimed to fellow drivers how she survived shopping at Wal-Mart the Saturday before Christmas.

That is a bumper sticker we all want by this point in December. We have arrived at the moment in the Advent season where we start to echo the motto of “survive and advance.” Survive all the rushing around, the frustrated shoppers, the overcrowded parking lots, in order to advance to the celebration of Christmas morning. After a month of hustle and bustle we’re just ready for things to slow down and to move on to the celebrations.

To be honest, however, there might be some among us who might have a different view about at this time in December. You might not be thinking about simply surviving to Christmas morning or wishing for things to slow down. You are thinking about something else. You are just ready for Christmas to be over.

Even though the Christmas season does not officially begin until Christmas Eve for us, you are beyond ready for the tree to be out of the living room, the shopping to be done, and for the radio stations to play anything but “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for the 20th time in a row. We’re so tired that by this fourth of week of Advent all we can dream about is for things to return to some sense of normality.

In both responses to our current place in the Advent season there is a general state of exhaustion that comes as a reaction to the season’s busyness. Part of why we experience this exhaustion is because we forget what Christmas is about. Christmas is not about Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It is not about the trees, the gifts, or the meal. It is not even about a Silent Night in a little town known as Bethlehem. It is not even about the imagery of Christmas that surrounds this time. Because of what we have turn Christmas into we have forgotten what Christmas announces to all people.

Christmas is more than a one-day celebration. Christmas is more than a night of worship. Christmas is more than a 12-day season. It is the announcement of the expectant happening in an unexpected way. It is the heralding of the expected Messiah’s birth who will do the unexpected. It is about the One who has come to provide hope, to express peace, and to change the world through ways that are unlike our ways. Christmas is about announcing to the world the beginning of Jesus’ work to reclaim the world into God’s image and how that work continues today.

That is the good news we receive from our reading of Luke 1:46-55. These words are known as “The Magnificat” because of the Latin translation of Mary’s first few words. They are the announcement of God’s work being realized in unexpected ways. It is Mary’s words of praise and promise in response to what God has done in her life and what God will do for all people through the child she carries.

We come upon these words as Mary visits with her cousin, Elizabeth, in a town near Bethlehem. Mary has already learned that she is carrying the expected Messiah and has gotten word that Elizabeth, in her old age, is pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary has gone to be with Elizabeth to offer support and to be with someone who could understand her experiences. The journey to Elizabeth’s home and Mary’s time with her gives her time to reflect upon the pregnancy, the promise it provides, and Elizabeth’s own pregnancy and what it means.

As she does, she utters familiar words that are uniquely her own. They are familiar because they are similar to the words spoken by Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. There Hannah rejoices in her pregnancy and how her child, Samuel, would grow to be an influential leader and prophet for the people of Israel, and indeed he was. Mary connects her story with Hannah’s and expresses her own heart-felt words of rejoicing in what God has done for her and what God continues to do for all people.

She does so by starting her song of praise much like Hannah. Mary says her soul glorifies the Lord and rejoices in her savior. Mary expresses her joy at what God is doing and the blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon her. She is very aware that she is the unexpected choice to be blessed with such a tremendous responsibility of giving birth to Jesus. Here is Mary, a 13-year old girl, engaged to Joseph, from a poor family, who grew up in the undistinguished community of Nazareth and who will be the one who will give birth to the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace. It was completely unexpected for Mary to be the choice to carry Jesus, and Mary recognizes this through her words of praise in response to God’s actions.

God’s blessings upon Mary leads her to reflect more upon God’s actions and what will happen through Jesus. Much like how Hannah reflects on the work Samuel will do, now Mary does the same by announcing how Jesus will do a great and unexpected work for all people. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, says that Mary speaks with a prophetic voice as she announces what will happen through Jesus.

Indeed, Mary’s words have a prophetic ring to them as she rejoices in the work that will come through Jesus’ actions. She says Jesus will provide mercy for those whose heart is with the Lord. That Jesus will humble the proud by giving a place of honor to the outcast and rejected. That Jesus will be with the hungry and the poor, instead of the rich and powerful. God is coming through Jesus, Mary says, and the Lord will come to be with the ones society often forgets.

All this she announces as Mary and her peers in Judea are experiencing a period of injustice and oppression. The Roman Empire, at this time, is in control of Judea and is showing their might over the people. Even though this is going on all around her Mary knows that she can claim her hope in the unexpected work that God will do through the expectant Jesus. Hope, Mary says, is on the way. She says that there is a hope in the Messiah who will share the Lord’s love with all people. Mary clings to this hope, because just as God has worked throughout all time so will God continue to work in Jesus. God’s work through the prophets of old, like Samuel, is proof that God will come and do the work of standing with the oppressed.

This is what Christmas is all about. Get past the presents, the carols, and the shopping, Christmas is about the birth of an expectant Messiah who will do the unexpected work of standing with the oppressed and forgotten. Christmas is the announcement that Emmanuel will be with the poor, the outcast, the unrighteous, the sinner, the hurting, the lonely, the forgotten, the brokenhearted, and the rejected. Emmanuel has come to offer peace to all who believe peace is unavailable. Jesus came into the world to share this love and hope not with a few, but with all people. That is what we celebrate on Christmas morning. We celebrate that Jesus came to be with those who hurt, with those who suffer, with those who believe their past cannot be forgiven, with those who struggle. In the place of brokenness and struggles Jesus comes and offers in its place peace and hope.

To be honest, though, this is the message of Christmas we have forgotten to tell through the years. It is not just because of the earlier and earlier shopping season and the expectations that comes with Christmas, but it is about a reality that we live into every day. We no longer anticipate God doing the unexpected. We no longer expect God to be at work in the places of brokenness and hurt. We expect that we are alone and that God is not with us in these places of hurts and tears.

Sadly, we grown all too familiar with the belief that nothing will change in the fears, struggles, brokenness, and sadness that we carry with us. We believe that nothing will change to put an end to the oppression, division, violence, and hopelessness that exists in the world. We believe the announcement of Christmas, of Christ standing with and coming for these areas, no longer speaks in a world where brokenness seems to prevail.

We enter this week of Christmas celebrations with this hopeless feeling. Mary’s words to us are a reminder that we have a hope in the peace that came at Christmas. A peace that is alive and well. That is why we need to claim Mary’s words as our own. They need to be our prayer and announcement into the world and into our own lives that God is at work. These words are our hope that God speaks into all aspects of our lives and world.

Seeing Mary’s words as our prayer allows us to claim this word of hope that Jesus incarnates himself into the deepest moments of our pain, struggles, and fears. That God does the unexpected of providing hope when we feel alone, of providing strength when we are weak, and of providing comfort in times of anxiety. Mary’s words remind us that God stands in the places of brokenness, violence, injustice, and oppression in our world, our communities, and our homes. They invite us, as well, to see how God stands with us through Jesus to free us of our pain and fears and to show us a love that is beyond all understanding and expectations.

One of my favorite books is the Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” At the end of the book after Ebenezer Scrooge has turned a new leaf on life, there is a summarization that has been echoed through the various adaptations of the book. The words are appropriate for us today. Scrooge is known as someone who kept Christmas in his heart always.

What if that was the case for us? As we approach the worship services on Christmas Eve and the family celebrations throughout the week, what if we were known as people who always keep Christmas in our heart and lives? It is not hard for us to do. We do it by remembering that Christ came to do the unexpected and continues to do the unexpected today. That Christmas announces how God walks with the oppressed and is with us in our brokenness. That Jesus came to offer hope, love, joy, and peace for all, so that every person may experience a renewed life.

That is what Christmas is all about. May we keep Christmas not just in these days to come, but in our heart always.

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