The unexpectedness of God

A couple weeks ago we were surprised to wake up to over 5 inches of snow, with more still falling. We knew it was coming but hadn’t expected it to be quite such a significant quantity!

Have you ever considered how disruptive Mary’s encounter with Angel Gabriel must have been? What was most likely a normal, mundane day was turned upside down by an unexpected encounter with God’s messenger. This unexpected encounter changes Mary’s life.

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

It seems to me that the Christmas narrative as a whole is filled with God being and doing the unexpected…

  • Elizabeth and Zechariah expected to never have children, yet along comes John…
  • I doubt anyone expected Augustus to announce a census where everyone must return to their home town…
  • Mary came from Nazareth, and in John’s gospel we find Nathaniel’s questions of ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ – indicating that people from Nazareth weren’t expected to achieve anything…
  • The Shepherds were having a normal night watching their flocks when unexpectedly an angel stood before them…
  • The magi expected Jesus to be born in a palace in Jerusalem, but found him in Bethlehem…
  • Herod was frightened by his unexpected visit from the magi suggesting a new King of the Jews was to be born…

If there’s anything that the Christmas story tells us it is that God comes into the unexpected….God is in the unexpected…God is unexpected…

And nothing says that more clearly that the unexpectedness of the Christ-child, Jesus, born as a baby, who was, and is, God.

How do we respond to God’s unexpectedness? In the midst of the commercial hype of Christmas, how ready are we to even recognise the unexpectedness of God?

Upon receiving her unexpected message, Mary was both perplexed and questioned Gabriel. The Luke narrative doesn’t show Mary rejecting the message, ignoring or running away, but on hearing it seeking to engage with and understand the message. After Gabriel responds to Mary’s questions, Mary’s response is simple, humble, obedient and heroic…

‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Luke 1:38

Mary’s receptiveness seems admirable. She responds to this unexpected and life changing encounter with grace and acceptance.

And remember the stakes were high here. She was betrothed to Joseph, and now she was going to be pregnant, and he’d know it wasn’t his child…What would her family, neighbours, community say and think of her.

So today, consider how ready you are to encounter the unexpectedness of God. Not to be consumed by the festivities of the Christmas season but to be able to see beyond the tinsel, turkeys and wrapping paper to encounter the manifest and unexpected presence of God, in the unlikeliness of Christ Jesus.

Receive afresh God’s promised gift, to receive afresh God’s revelation to humanity.

Be ready to respond with grace to the unexpectedness of God.

Adapted from a Sermon preached at Bethel Methodist Church, St Austell Circuit, Cornwall on Christmas Eve 2017.

Image: Trees at the Queens Foundation, Birmingham, December 2017.

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