Christmas is full of unexpected moments. That is what makes it so special.
Don’t throw a gingerbread man at me. I’m not talking about dropping the turkey when it comes out of the oven, your car breaking down on your way to your favorite annual Christmas concert, or the entire family contracting the flu the day before Christmas
Wait. Maybe I am. For I’m slowly learning that if my life plans take twists and turns that don’t make sense, God is probably up to something. When my plans go off-kilter, I need to stop and look for God in the details. I need to ask Him to enter my messy space and poke His glory through the loopholes of my plans.
The Christmas story has taught me to look for God in the unexpected.
Think about all the anomalies that happened in the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. We accept them now as part of the story because we’ve heard it so often. But several details aren’t normal life behavior. For example:
The journey. Usually, women stay confined those last three months of pregnancy. Yet Mary traveled an 80-mile journey on foot in the last stages of pregnancy so she and her betrothed could file taxes in their hometown. Okay, the pictures show Mary on a donkey. Whatever. Any woman who has been pregnant cringes at the thought of any journey in whatever mode of transportation at that stage of pregnancy.
The place: Think of those getting acquainted parties your first few weeks at college: “Where are you from? Where were you born?” Our hometown is important to us. Imagine having to admit, “Well, uh, I was born during a trip my parents had to take and . . .”
The manger. I don’t know where first century moms usually put their newborns. I’ve heard tales of past generations putting their babies in laundry baskets or bottom bureau drawers. But I think I can guarantee a feeding trough is not standard protocol in any generation.
The guest list: Who does a woman want around her after her baby is born? The local women. Her family. Her mom. Mary had none of these. Instead, a group of roughnecked shepherds who had night duty over the flocks came to gawk at her child laying in the feeding trough. Not normal, not normal at all.
The mom: This is the biggest unexpected of all. The one that goes against all social mores. The story for which we have only Mary and Joseph’s word. Mary was a virgin. Any adult knows, it doesn’t work that way. It’s not just unexpected, it’s impossible. Or is it? Look what God has done!
Why the out of the ordinary details?
If Jesus had been born under what we would deem normal circumstances: man + woman, surrounded by family, born in Jerusalem or Nazareth, tucked into a cradle specially designed by the carpenter-father, visited by family with a special gift sent by the neighbor wife, well, who would notice? It would be one more baby.
Yet God announced the birth to shepherds, placed an unusual star in the sky, brought philosophers from a far-away country who caught the significance of this birth better than did the local king, and placed His Son in a manger so no one would miss that this was the One. He did the unexpected so mothers would tell their children for generations, “Look what God has done.”
The unexpected became the story
The unexpected shouted God’s involvement. The unusual details left no informed doubt that God was in this.
Think over your life span. What Christmases have shouted God’s message to you the most? Analyze that Christmas. Was it because your family did what it always does? Or did something out of the ordinary happen? Perhaps, like for Mary and Joseph, God caught your attention through the departure from normal routine so you could catch a fresh look at the beauty of His presence, character, power, and love for you.
Has Christmas lost its luster for you or for those around you? Would you like to use Christmas to platform what God has done? Consider these two ideas that can help you ponder and share what God has done with those around you.
Roll with the unexpected. When plans don’t come together as you would like, pause and pray that God will weave His will around the unforeseen changes. Ask Him to show up in the details that will give you your own, “Look what God has done” story.
Do something different. Help your family find new meaning in the Christmas story by implementing a new activity. Do an advent calendar, reading a different Scripture each evening. Have your children reenact the Christmas story. Make and listen to a playlist of the more unusual Christmas carols. Put five dollars in a Salvation Army red bucket.
How is Christmas shaping up to be different for you this year? How are you seeing God in your story? Comment below and tell us what will make this Christmas season special for you and your family.