For a number of years, our family had gathered on Christmas Eve—or the day before depending on work schedules, to open presents. Everyone sat in a circle while one of the younger members passed out all the presents. When all the gifts had been distributed, we began the hours’ long process of opening them one by one while letting everyone see what the designated recipient had received.
Though the normal gathering place was Mom’s house, for two years now we had assembled at my middle brother’s home for the celebration. This was one of those years. Everyone delivered their food to the kitchen and their presents to the bottom of the tree nestled in the den. My sister-in-law, like Mary, was great with child—their third. In fact, she was due any day.
After the gorging was over, we took our seats in a circle. Mom, of course, had to visit the restroom, brush her teeth, touch up her makeup, and do anything else that rattled the nerves of antsy children who waited to unravel the bows and shred the paper from their presents. It was a normal ritual. Regardless of where we gathered, she was always the last to sit down and the one who always held up the party. This year was no different. Children have a difficult time waiting to open gifts, and these cousins did too. Finally, she arrived, took her seat, and the tradition began.
One by one gifts were opened by the various family members. My sister-in-law lounged in the recliner where she attempted to gain relief from the pressure of her bulging shape. Unknown to my wife, she had wrapped a gag gift for her. When my wife dived into the present, they both bellowed out a laugh. And that’s when it happened.
Suddenly the giddy expression on my sister-in-law’s face turned ashen white. Her water had broken. Their newest addition was on the way, but she wanted to finish opening her presents, so we gave her the privilege of finishing all hers at once. She and my brother then loaded up and headed for the local hospital. Just prior to midnight and Christmas Eve, my nephew was born into a world beginning to celebrate the joy of the day before Christmas. We knew his arrival was near, but we had no idea he would make a surprise appearance on Christmas Eve. Instead of doing what we would normally have been doing at that time—sleeping, we lounged at the hospital awaiting his appearance.
Mary and Joseph certainly knew the approximate time of Jesus’ birth, but they must have been surprised as well—and a little anxious, when he showed up while they were on a journey to a neighboring town with no room for them to spend the night. So they were relegated to a stable where the Son of God made his humble appearance. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14 NLT)
Scattered prophecies from Old Testament prophets foretold the nature of the coming Messiah, but most individuals overlooked those and focused on the ones declaring his might and power. So when he was born in a cave to parents from the insignificant town of Nazareth, it was a surprise many couldn’t stomach. He met with scorn and rejection—initially even from his own brothers.
Rarely does God do things the way we expect, and the Christmas story is no different. He chose to birth his Son to a poor young maiden who lived in an unimportant town and who wasn’t yet married. Her husband’s trade was carpentry which destined her son to repeat the lowly profession—at least until he began patterning himself after his real Father’s business.
Just as he did with his Christmas miracle, God often surprises me as well. He shows up when I least expect him, delivers when I’ve all but given up hope, loves me even after I’ve made poor choices, and gives me strength when it seems I can’t go any farther. Let Christ be your Christmas surprise.