Celebrating the Unexpectedness of Advent

by Christine Sine

by Christine Sine

When Advent began Tom and I started listening to my Advent music playlist each morning. One of my favourite Advent hymns is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus with music by Rowland H. Prichard and lyrics by Charles Wesley. However this year I find myself singing Come thou unexpected Jesus. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah but not one like this. Nothing about the birth of Jesus was what they expected: at the centre is Mary who conceives as an unwed teenager, Joseph who accepts a child not his own and Elizabeth who welcomes and supports her cousin through what must have been a harrowing first few months of her pregnancy. All of them living at the outskirts of the empire unknown by the priests and rulers in Jerusalem, unimportant in the political and religious scene of the day.

Good reason for Mary to be afraid when the angel Gabriel comes to visit. Her world, in fact the whole world, was about to be changed and she was centre stage.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Grace to you, young woman, for the Lord is with you[w] and so you are anointed with great favor.”  Mary was deeply troubled over the words of the angel and bewildered over what this may mean for her. 30 But the angel reassured her, saying, “Do not yield to your fear, Mary, for the Lord has found delight in you and has chosen to surprise you with a wonderful gift. ( Luke 1:28 – 30.TPT )

Advent disrupted everything in the life of Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth. It should disrupt everything in our lives too as we look in hope and anticipation towards the coming of the One through whom God and the entire creation will one more be fully united.

So often we hope for change in our lives and our world, wanting to see that better world of God’s promises come into being, but when God suggests that we could be the instruments of that change we draw back afraid to step out of our comfort zones. We want the change that results in justice and peace to happen without us needing to do anything. After all we are small and insignificant players in God’s plan. How could we possibly be the instruments of change that God is looking for?

As I wait with Mary for the birth of Jesus this Advent season I look around at a world that desperately needs change. We face a climate crisis that will devastate our world if we don’t make radical changes to our lifestyles. We face political upheaval and economic turmoil in ways that I have not seen before in my lifetime. It is easy for fear and anxiety to rear their ugly heads and hold us captive.

I love to look for the unexpected symbols that unsettle me and keep me ready for the kinds of change that I think Advent challenges us to. The image above, an abbey altar piece know as The Visit of the Angels and painted between 1390 and 1400 is of Mary knitting. It is unsettling because she is doing something mundane and everyday when the angels come to her. Reflecting on this image makes us realize Mary is not some extraordinary woman called by God because she has strange super powers but an ordinary teenage girl living on the margins of the empire – vulnerable, and probably as uncertain as any teenager today.

This is a beautiful image to reflect on as we think about the unexpectedness of the Advent story. What catches your attention? What unsettles you? In what ways does it help prepare you for the unexpected ways that Jesus will be birthed in your heart and your life this Christmas?

God comes to all of us in so many unexpected ways asking us to be the change the world needs to see. I think that Mary, in some ways, represents all of us – unsettled by what God’s messengers have said, yet needing to embrace our call to be instruments of change without yielding to our fears. We do indeed need to make room for Christ to be born afresh in our hearts and in our lives this year in ways that can help change our world.

So what do we do during this season of waiting?

  1. Listen to the angels. We may not have heavenly visitors come to us but there are other messengers that God is sending to help us find our way to the Messiah – environmentalists like Greta Thunberg, activists like Jim Wallis and contemplatives like Richard Rohr who know that there needs to be change in the world and call us to be the instruments of that change. Who are the angels who are messengers of change and new birth for you?
  2. Look for the Elizabeths. When God calls who do we run to? All of us need supporters like Joseph and Elizabeth who can help keep God’s dreams alive during the seasons of hard waiting that we face. Who are the ones that support you and encourage you when God’s call comes and you are afraid?
  3. Don’t be afraid of the unexpected. Like Mary we need to be willing to be instruments of change without yielding to our fears and anxieties. God finds delight in all of us and promises us a special gift – not necessarily a baby born in a manger but a fresh touch of the divine presence born in our hearts and in our minds. Are we willing to let go of our expectations for this season and allow God to reveal something new to us?

What Is Your Response?

Sit quietly and prayerfully reflect on what you read today. Now close your eyes and listen to the song below. Instead of long expected Jesus read unexpected Jesus.  What comes to your mind? Is there something unexpected that God is wanting to give birth to in you this year? What is one action step you could take as Christmas approaches to make this possible?


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