Expectation. This is the word that encompasses the entire Christmas season. We have expectation. We expect certain foods and gatherings. We expect lights and trees and gifts to go under those light infused trees. We expect Christmas carols and a 24-hour-loop of A Christmas Story to take us through Christmas Eve. We get so caught up in the expectation, in the heavy weight of nostalgia and memory, that sometimes (all the time) we are completely unprepared for the unexpected. You know…the sudden onset of the stomach flu. The sky that was long ago full of angels becomes dark and, rather than letting forth glorious four-part harmony, instead lets loose with snow and ice. The budget that was unexpectedly downsized, or the relationship that unexpectedly ended.
Unexpected…that is the place we often find ourselves in during the Christmas season, after our expectations have fallen so very short of perfect.
And maybe, unexpected is a better word for Christmas anyway. Because it’s in the unexpected that God so often shows up.
Consider Elizabeth and Mary. Both women were unexpectedly expecting. Elizabeth was too old, and Mary was too unmarried. But yet, here they were, both full of a holy expectation. When Elizabeth unexpectedly finds an expectant Mary on her doorstep, she doesn’t say, “Dang, girl! You’re in a hot mess!” No, Elizabeth responds with the beauty and eloquence that only the Holy Spirit can give.
“God has blessed you more than any other woman!” she cries. “He has also blessed the child you will have. Why should the mother of my Lord come to me?” she inquires.
“As soon as I heard your greeting, my baby became happy and moved within me.”
And then, the final unexpected declaration: “The Lord has blessed you because you believed that he will keep his promise.” (Luke 1: 42-45)
Unexpected, isn’t it? Elizabeth called Mary blessed. The baby that grew within her womb was happy, at Mary’s unexpected news, and Elizabeth was honored that the mother of the Lord would come to her. Elizabeth saw God in the unexpected. Not just God, Elizabeth was the first person to receive the biggest news of all time: the Messiah was coming. Salvation was at hand.
How different would Elizabeth’s experience have been if she had been unable to receive the unexpected? What if she had simply said, “You know, Mary, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now and I just can’t deal with your stuff, too.” What if she had pretended nothing was happening and stubbornly stuck to her own plan? She could have welcomed Mary and ignored the unexpected, sending Mary on her way before it became too obvious that anything was amiss. But instead, Elizabeth accepted the unexpected gift placed, literally, upon her doorstep. Not only that, Elizabeth offered a blessing to the unexpected.
Elizabeth blessed the unexpected.
Mary, too, blessed the unexpected in her song of praise at Elizabeth’s greeting. Gone was the fear and frustration that she had first experienced upon receiving this most unexpected news. Like her cousin, Mary full embraced this unexpected turn of events and saw God’s divine hand in the process.
“From now on,” Mary says, “all people will say God has blessed me. “God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and his name is holy.” (Luke 1: 48-49)
I wonder if there isn’t a lesson for us in the story of these two women who were unexpectedly expecting. I wonder if we, too, might see God at work in the unexpected. Can we offer a blessing to the unexpected that arrives on our doorstep this year? Can we, like Elizabeth, find honor that God would show up in such a nontraditional manner? Can we sing a song of praise, like Mary, for the promises God will keep? Can we unexpectedly expect the Holy to arrive this Christmas, as it did so long ago?
As Christmas draws near, I invite you to unexpectedly expect the presence of God. I invite you to see his presence in the most unlikely places, people, and events. Like Mary, I invite you to praise the Lord with all your heart, and be glad because of God our Savior. God wants to do mighty things through you. He wants you, like Mary, to magnify his presence in your life, even when it comes in the most unexpected ways.