Many of us seem to have mixed feelings about surprises. On the one hand, we like them. A surprise birthday party can be fun, and can make the birthday celebrity feel good. Sports are popular, partly because we never know for sure which team is going to win. At Christmas, we give gifts hoping to surprise our family and friends.
On the other hand, we are uncomfortable with surprises. We like chain restaurants and motels because “no surprises” is comforting. We arm our houses, offices and cars with security systems, whose sirens and flashing lights take away the element of surprise from an unwelcome intruder. We tend to call ahead or make appointments to visit our friends, because we don’t want our surprise visit to be an inconvenient interruption.
This coming Sunday, Nov. 30, is the first Sunday of Advent. Whether we like them or not, Advent is a season of surprise. Our worship scriptures from Isaiah 61 and Mark 13 suggest that God comes to us in intrusive and surprising ways. They show that God does not call ahead. Rather, they present a God who likes to come into our lives in ways we can neither expect nor predict.
A problem with the season of Advent is that we have stripped it of surprise. Our decorating, gift buying, feasting and caroling have become predictable and routine. These Advent traditions are nostalgic and enchanting and get us ready for Christmas. But their familiarity might also insulate us from the God who comes as a surprise.
Jesus, after all, was a surprise. No one expected God’s Messiah to come as a baby in a manger. Which leaves us with an important question: how can we prepare to celebrate again the coming of Jesus while keeping ourselves open to the unfamiliar and surprising ways God might want to come to us this season?