One of the childlike delights of Christmas is that it’s full of surprises. The readings of the Third Week of Advent speak to that sense of surprise.
Balaam is hired to curse Israel. He utters a blessing and a prophecy instead. Surprise!
Jacob is about to die and gives a final blessing to his sons. He doesn’t give the greatest blessing to the eldest, as would have been expected. Instead, he gives it to Judah, his fourth son, and prophesies that he will rule over his brothers. Surprise!
Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus. There are several key points at which it includes women who, for one reason or another, would have been considered impure. The line of the Messiah runs through them anyway. Surprise!
Samson and John the Baptist are conceived by their up-to-that-point-barren mothers. Surprise!
Ahaz refuses to ask God for a sign of His dominion — so that he won’t have to follow God when the sign is given! So God declares the sign through the prophet Isaiah: the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel. Even the translation history of that passage is a surprise: the original Hebrew could be translated simply as “young maiden,” but when Jewish scholars translated it into Greek — and this happened in the centuries before Christ was born — they translated it as “virgin.” Surprise!
The readings for this week, and the familiar stories of Christmas, are filled with enough surprises to satisfy every childlike heart.
But if the surprises speak to the child in us, as adults we also know that the key question of faith is this: how do we handle the surprises?
After all, Pharaoh received surprises during the time of the Exodus. He closed his heart to God’s grace.
Saul received a surprise when he set out for Damascus to persecute the young Church. It left him utterly puzzled and confused, though eventually he opened his heart and accepted God’s grace.
Mary received a surprise when the angel visited her. Within 90 seconds she had surrendered her whole self — body and soul — to God’s plan.
What about us? What do we learn from these and the many other examples in salvation history – and maybe from people in our own lives — about how best to respond, and how not to respond, to the surprises that come into our lives?
Here are three key points we can all ponder as Christmas draws near:
1) Am I attentive to God in the midst of my day — am I ready to be surprised?
2) Am I receptive to the surprises that God gives me — am I willing to stop and ponder them when they come?
3) Am I responsive to the surprises that God places in my path — or do I resist them because they’re inconvenient?
Salvation history shows that God is full of surprises. May we be open to the surprises He has for us these days.