The Season of Surprises
This holy season of anticipation and preparation is also one of surprises. Children live these days in a state of expectant surprise as they anticipate the gifts of their dreams and hopes. Even crusty "you-can't-surprise-me" adults occasionally let down their guard long enough for a surprise to sneak up and shout out, "Gotcha!"
One long-ago king of Israel was not surprised. In the Old Covenant book of Isaiah he declined to let himself be surprised by a sign from the Lord God. King Ahaz declines the invitation. He is king after all and kings are in control, remember because kings cannot afford to be surprised. He will not let God surprise him with a sign that might take his puny limited human breath away and knock his regal socks off.
But the God of all surprises gives him a surprise sign anyway. It is the famous Emmanuel Sign that says "God is with us" which forms such an integral portion of the anticipatory services of our Church at the compline service prior to the Midnight Divine Liturgy. It sets the tone for our heavenly celebration. Why is this sign a surprise? Because Ahaz and his people have a good reason to believe that God is against them, their ideas and their practices and way of life. But the sign announces very pleasantly, "God is with us!" What an unnerving surprise!
The Birthgiver of God received a surprise in her life as well. An angelic visitor comes to her living place and tells her she is about to become the Mother of a SAVIOUR. And she is not even married. What astounding and even shocking news. She has lived her life in silent contemplation of God's loving mercy and cannot fathom the news she receives. Why her? Why in the context of her life should God intrude on her security and blessed prayer life! But God loves surprises in the spiritual realm and she is endowed with one beyond comprehension.
Then of course we have the betrothed of Mary, Joseph the humble carpenter of Nazareth. He has been widowed and reconciled himself to a life of contemplation and pursuing the salvation of his soul. He is earnest about supporting his family as a widower and labors long hours to be faithful. He is a prayerful man; a man who meditates frequently on the blessings in his life from heaven above. He hopes to marry the most pure one and live a quiet devoted life. But he learns she is expectant with child and is upset. Boy is he surprised at that news!
The God of Israel reveals himself to him in a series of dreams and calms his apprehensions. Now he will spend his advanced years in making possible the ambitions of God for our salvation. What a magnanimous surprise that instead of a relaxed and quiet advanced-years life, he will have it filled to the brim with dynamism and glorious activity. He will be the medium through which heaven works to assure the Virgin gives birth safely and soundly to the Saviour of mankind.
The shepherds in the fields of surrounding Bethlehem received a surprise when angelic visitors announced the miraculous event taking place in a particular cave in a manger located in it and urges them to go and pay their obesience. Never in all their life would they have dreamed God would personally touch their lives in so profound and deep and compelling a visit.
But a wondrous portion of the surprise is that our Messiah comes among us with a spirit of wisdom and fear of God. We reflect upon these characteristics of our Saviour in order to appreciate the gift offered us. With this gift of his coming also comes peace for all those who truly accept and live his style of life. The book of Isaiah tells us now all will be changed, "Then the wolf will lie down with the lamb and the leopard with the kid" Isaiah 11: 5. "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord" Isaiah 11: 2.
Christ is eternal wisdom and his standards must be our standards and life-style. Realizing all wisdom is in Christ and comes to us through him in the life of his Body, our blessed Church, we should make serious effort to cultivate the attitude of a proper and profound fear of God. After all, the delight of Christ himself is fear of the Lord. "His delight shall be fear of the Lord" Isaiah 11: 2. The world around us only has a superficial, even fake appreciation of what we are about to celebrate; thus it has no need of a Saviour and does not appreciate Christ.
But the best, perhaps last surprise of this season is the birth of our Saviour in the flesh. The surprise is that God's son assumes our flesh, our bone, our blood, our total humanity except for sin and comes among us in the form of a human child. It shows us our enduring worth in the Creator's sight. He thinks what He created is worth saving.
As we prepare to celebrate this wondrous birth in the flesh of God, we are called upon not to be like King Ahaz and enter into his game by rejecting the surprise. If we have prepared ourselves, particularly with confession of our sins and limitations, we will receive the Infant of Bethlehem into our hearts. We have to let ourselves go with the flow of this holy time and finally reach our destination so that our Lord does not come upon us unprepared for the festivities attendant to a proper celebration of God With Us!