Have you ever received a gift that was completely unexpected? Maybe it was a gift from someone you normally do not exchange gifts with. Maybe it was a gift so off-the-wall you just didn’t see it coming.
The year I went into ministry, my brother-in-law gave me a “pastor’s survival kit” with items like prayer kneepads made of toilet paper. It was pretty memorable.
Maybe your unexpected gift was more extravagant than expected. The first Christmas after I got married, us “kids” bought my mother-in-law a porch swing. She cried when she saw it. Now, 20 years later, that swing is falling apart, but she still loves swinging with her grandkids. I think that’s part of the joy of Christmas — not just those things we come to expect, but the unexpected in the midst of it.
At times, even those things we know are coming can still feel unexpected. Maybe it’s because things play out a little differently than we thought. Maybe it’s because what we expected was not realistic. Or, maybe it’s because God has a different plan.
Christmas often is a season of anticipation and expectation. The excitement of little children when the decorations go up or new presents appear under the tree. And getting up way too early on Christmas morning because someone just can’t wait to open their gift. The holiday happens every year and still we get excited.
Sometimes I worry that the Christmas story becomes too routine for us. We know the story so well. But the Christmas story is full of the unexpected. From the young mother, to the manger as a bed, to the Magi from the East, God offers the unexpected at every turn. But, after a lifetime of Christmases, we can tend to get comfortable, thinking we know what to expect.
Maybe that’s not just something that happens with the Christmas story, but with our faith. Worship, Sunday school, prayer, Bible study, all these pieces that become part of our pattern in life, but are meant to be so much more than routine. The God who filled the Christmas story with so many unexpected moments offers surprises for us as well, if we’re just willing to look for them.
In the midst of our own plans and preparations this time of year, maybe the most important gifts are not just the moments we know are coming, but the unexpected moments, too. This Christmas I hope God can catch you by surprise. As followers of Christ, I pray you begin to expect the unexpected God has to offer us.
The Rev. Michael Evans is pastor of Faith United Church in Gibbon.