I know it may seem a bit childish but I badly wanted a real Christmas tree. In the end, to put me out of my misery, or maybe even to stop me banging on about it, Marika and Darta took me to a place just up the road from where I live where I chose my tree. The man packed it up, and for the first time in my life I walked home with my tree, just like they do in films about Victorian Christmases. It felt everso slightly romantic.
Once home, the decorations and lights duly adorned said tree and off I went to bed. Next morning, a spoonful of porridge at the ready, I noticed something that was definitely not porridge – something small and blackish-looking. Yep, you’ve guessed, a pine needle in my morning porridge! It is still something of a mystery to me how it managed to travel from the sitting room into the kitchen and almost end up as part of my breakfast.
This trivial incident, the unexpected presence of pine needles where I least expected to find them, actually reinforced what seems to have become my special Christmas thought for this year which centres around this word ‘unexpected’.
A link to a YouTube video of children acting out the Christmas story is what started it. In the play, God is in Heaven deciding that it is time to intervene in the world he created where things have gone badly wrong, The short play depicts an imaginary conversation God has with the angels about the way he will remedy things. Shock follows shock as the angels realise that God is not going to send an army, but his own son, the ‘Prince of Heaven’, that the son will be sent as a baby, not to a princess living in a palace but to a peasant girl who will give birth in a stable. As each part of the plan is unveiled to the incredulous angels, there is one small be-spectacled boy angel who repeats the refrain ‘they won’t be expecting that!’
It was this comic little intervention which started me on my reflections this Christmas time. The thoughts were not new ones, in fact, they were really rather obvious, but came to me with new impact this year. I was reminded again that God came to the least likely people, not ‘the rich nor learned nor clever’, and he still does today. It also reminded me that the birth of Jesus challenges my preconceptions of how and where God can be seen at work, and what he will look like when I do find him! I love Isaiah 53 which is often read at Christmas Carol Services. Those first verses of Isaiah 53 could have the title ‘They won’t be expecting this’….
‘The servant grew up before God….There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is…….He took the punishment, and that made us whole.’ Isaiah 53 – selected verses (The Message)
Well, we’ve come a long way from the trivial incident about the pine needles in my porridge, but before Christmas was over I had a much more significant illustration of the ‘unexpected’ character of Christmas to add to these reflections.
I was invited to, and went along to the Christmas party at our Children’s Home and Crisis Centre at a place called ‘Skangaļi’. The children took part and did various party pieces, awards were given out, and then, the highlight of the proceedings, Santa Claus made his entry and gifts were given out to the waiting children. At the end of all the excitement, a smart young man came to the front and began to speak. He told about the fact that he had now left the Home but came back ‘home’ from time to time. He went on to give some ‘elder brother’ kind of advice to the children and young people who live in ‘Skangaļi’ and then went on to say that the most important gift he had received when he had lived there was a gift which had changed his life. Through the love shown to him by a member of staff, he had been introduced to the love of God and, as a result, had received Jesus as his Saviour…….now I definitely wasn’t expecting that at a children’s Christmas party!