Christmas Eve ….

How are you doing with the presents? Got them all wrapped yet?

What a job! Trying to hold three different bits of paper together at the same time as cutting the sellotape; sticking the sellotape onto one finger and trying to fold everything back up, only to discover that a bit of the tape has stuck to the paper and ripped it! Then there’s the present which turns out to be just a little too big for the largest sheet or roll of wrapping paper you could find. Wrapping presents is a real bind!

And when you have wrapped everything,  you sit back a look at your endeavours and it’s still pretty obvious what most things are – it isn’t easy to disguise the shirt with the collar which sticks up above the rest of the pack, a tennis racket is a tennis racket even inside Christmas wrapping, a bottle of wine is a bottle of wine however you try to wrap it – and a
mountain bike – well what else could it be?

It is a wonder that anyone is surprised by the presents that they get. And yet we are, aren’t we. There is always something that comes as a complete surprise – even if we’ve given everyone a list of what we want, we still get that present or presents which are impossible to guess from their wrapping. We look at them and wonder what they might be.

Often the surprise is fantastic. Something really special. But sometimes the surprise is negative. …

As a teenager in the 1970s, I set my sights on a lovely pair of cowboy boots that had good 3” high heels and platform soles. I think that they were bright orange in colour. I told my parents about them and they assured me (suprisingly) that my boots would be waiting for me on Christmas morning.

As teenagers are wont to do, I slithered downstairs on Christmas morning, trying not to betray my excitement. Mum and Dad had always said no to the clothes I wanted before.

When we started opening the presents, I was immediately aware that I was probably going to be disappointed. There were no presents large enough. Still I maintained a slim hope that perhaps the boot calves had been folded over to get them into a smaller box. But no, when I opened the present from Mum and Dad, there were a pair of boots, ankle-height elasticised slip-on boots with half inch heels. It felt like they had reinterpreted my request to suit themselves! I don’t think I wore those boots more than once. I was deeply disappointed!

As Israel waited for its Messiah it had a very definite idea in mind what that Messiah would be like. The trouble was that when that Messiah arrived he did not fit their idea of a Messiah. God’s gift to Israel was not what it wanted.

Israel had chosen to listen to the bits of the bible it wanted to hear. It created a concept of a Messiah who was a powerful and dynamic king. A Messiah who would rid them of the oppressor, a military Messiah, a powerful leader who would free them from the yoke of oppression. ‘No,’ says Jesus, ‘I am here to inaugurate a different kingdom, a kingdom built on justice for all, and peace and healing for the oppressed.’

The thing with God is … that we can never pin God down. We think we have listened. We form our ideas of what God wants, or what God is doing. And then, hey presto, God does something different. We’ve tried to understand what he wants and yet again we’ve been trapped by our own ideas and our limited understanding of God.

It is wonderful when God surprises us with something new, something different. … The incarnation of Jesus, was one of those occasions – perhaps the most important of them.

In Jesus’ life and death he turned convention on its head, he disturbed the status quo, and out of a shameful death brought new life and hope to the world.

Jesus is God’s present to us this Christmas. But don’t go thinking that you’ll necessarily get the present you’ve asked for! Jesus at work in our lives is more disturbing, more exciting, more wonderful than we can anticipate. If this baby was a surprise and a shock for those waiting for a Messiah, his life was even more so, and the manner of his death was the final shocking surprise.

When Jesus came in his glory, it wasn’t as a king robed in finery on a golden throne. It was naked, dying, with a cross as his throne. In Jesus’ death shame became glory. We look back with gratitude and celebrate a king born as a baby who is finally crowned king with thorns and with a cross for a throne.

I was disappointed with my boots back in the 1970s, but I have never been disappointed with Jesus. Occasionally confused, sometimes disturbed, sometimes bewildered, but following his lead has taken me all over the place, and he continues to change and challenge me.

We can look back with gratitude to those days when Christ was here on earth; we can express our love of our Lord. But for those who lived through those days, weeks and months of Jesus’ ministry and the week surrounding his death, they were full of shocks and surprises.

Our God is a God of
surprises. He wants to surprise each of us with his presence this Christmas time.

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