Date: December 11, 2016
Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
Asheville, North Carolina
Expecting the Unexpected
I will never forget that particular Christmas morning. My
old brother and
old me flew down the stairs
in our matching reindeer o
dove strait towards the foot of our family’s Christmas tree.
We grabbed the two biggest gifts wrapped in brig
ht green and red paper marked “L
Mom and Dad.” I wondered:
Could this be the newest Nintendo game? Or the jeep for Barbie
to get around the house?
We ripped our gifts open.
Mine was a great big tree of b
a large tin of Quaker o
e both screamed.
We looked u
p at our parents in disbelief,
“Where are the real
“These are the real gifts.” They said sporting big smiles from ear to ear. “How do you like
Now, I should have prefaced this story by saying there is nothing that I
ore as a
child than b
roccoli, and there is nothing that turned my brother’s s
tomach upside down
like Quaker o
after a few long,
hard minutes had passed and my giggling parents had photographed
us with our new gifts, it was all becoming a bit
too real. Maybe these really were our
Christmas gifts. So
in an attempt to make peace with that, I finally turned to my brother,
and said with sigh, “Well, you wanna switch?”
Time and time again, life reveals itself to be immensely unpredictable.
don’t always get the gift we expect, or
the outcome we want,
or the chapter we feel
We have to make split decisions
, change course, patiently wait
And never is this truer for us than around the holiday season:
As much as we try, we can’t deter
mine if our family gathering will go smoothly
f they’ll be no delay in travel plans
f the Christmas ham won’t burn this year
f our cousin will finally say “I’m sorry
f our uncle will hold his tongue
the absence of Mom
will feel less painful
if the invitation will even come in the mail at all.
We know that as much as we like to plan for the future,
s much as we like to be in control of the present,
when it comes to ou
r complex, ever
and our fraught human society,
er off staying on toes
ready to “expect the unexpected
This was true for Mary. As a teenager betrothed to Joseph, her road ahead seemed clearly
lit. Mary and her family must have been eagerly anticipating the security that would come
with her marriage
to a “good match.”
And Mary and Joseph may have been imagining
re their lives would take them:
Joseph hoped to one day open up a little backyard carpentry business (sort of a
Home Depot meets ancient Israel type deal)
erhaps Mary lo
oked forward to passing on
the sweetest traditions from her Jewish faith
to the family they would build together.
Everything seemed to be falling perfecting into place, until…
When the Angel Gabriel visits Mary and delivers the news that she
will be expecting the
“Son of the Most High,” suddenly Mary’s road ahead turns dark. This is an outrageous
and it jeopardizes everything.
If she is to carry this ho
liest of gifts into the world,
she is in
turn endangering every plan
put in place
for her life
her upcoming marriage, her family’s reputation,
her personal safety. To be a woman in ancient Israel was hard enough.
y be a
divorced, single mother accused of adultery
was synonymous with a life of destitution,
marginalization, even prostitution or death.
Why would God put a teenager in such a
precarious, unanticipated position?
Why bless someone so unprepared, with this “gift”
that could unravel her entire life?
image of the angel visiting Mary has captured our collective imagination for centuries.
We’ve seen numerous artistic depictions of our gi
rl crouched down in the corner
perfectly ironed blue scarf,
y hair neatly in place,
her eyes g
ring up towards
. And the angel
with a golden halo
and toga towering above her
bright and big as
Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you
and by the w
are going to have a baby
Depictions like this can be a
inspiring for us
or they can be unsettling. The angel can
seem overpowering, and Mary submissive, afraid, obedient and small, bowing and saying
“Here I am.” This sort of obedience to an all
powerful God might feel positive, and yet we
know that far too
often passages like this
have been misused by people to justify their own
power over others.