One of the hallmarks of this past year for me has been surprise. I do not like surprises. Surprises are unsettling and mess up time tables and outcomes. Surprises are disruptive and inject uncertainty and the unknown. Surprises force us let go of plans and outcomes and enter into a new sacred space of unknowingness.
When I had my worn out ankle replacement removed and all kinds of bone grafting and metal spikes and screws constructed in its place, I really thought I’d go through an extensive recovery and rehabilitation and come out on the other side be just about good as before. I was not watching for any surprises. Too bad for me because these past sixteen months has been one surprise after another with this ankle!
We truly don’t know what will happen or how things will go. In our Advent reading this week, Matthew writes of one being “taken” and one being “left”, surviving the onslaught of the taker. Two co-workers are on the same work team. One is diagnosed with cancer and another remains healthy. Two well-qualified applicants are applying for the same position. One gets the job and the other doesn’t. Two high school kids are coming home from the football game. One is killed in the car accident and the other lives. You’re in the wedding party of two friends. One couple stays married and the other divorces.
Surprises all around. While not all surprises are tragic or life-altering, they are an invitation to watch for the presence of God in surprises. Sometimes we have to wait awhile to see the presence of God in a situation and that can be painful. But the promise of Scripture is that God is reliable, meets us at the point of our greatest need, and accompanies us even and especially in the surprises and unbearable circumstances.
When I am watching for surprises – and there will be surprises – I know to also watch for God. God will show up. How and where and in whom God shows up may also be a surprise, but God does meet me. God meets me in that unsettling and uncertain surprise. God comforts me in all that disruption. As God accompanies me, a sense of purpose is gradually revealed. The surprise becomes a sacred experience which transforms me. Ah, the little gems along the Advent journey.