You may have experienced, as I have, the ‘big box’ Christmas prank. A huge wrapped box is presented amid a chorus of “what can it be?”, then layers of wrapping shed revealing a slightly smaller box within and then another and so on, until only a small box remains containing a not-so-impressive pair of socks. What looks grand turns out to be rather ordinary; the seemingly magnificent is actually unimpressive. That’s not the story of Christmas though, is it? With the Christmas story, it’s flipped. What may have looked to the casual observer quite ordinary - an ordinary woman, an ordinary town - was in fact something quite grand. The seemingly unimpressive was actually magnificent.
This God that chose to enter our physical world as a baby is a God that cannot be boxed by our human perspective or expectations of what He should look like or how He should work. Many people in Jesus’ day had been waiting for generations for a Messiah, and I wonder if what they were expecting or hoping for looked anything like the rough-around-the-edges scene of an unwed teenage mother in a small town in the mess of post-birth with an audience of very ordinary shepherds? By earthly standards it was hardly a fitting arrival for a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). If I had been waiting so long I may have expected something a little grander, a little more prominent: a big impressive box with a fancy bow. God did answer their waiting, but it came in a wrapping they may not have expected.
As we wait this Advent for Christmas, some of us are waiting for other things deep and significant. We may be waiting to be rescued from a dire circumstance. Waiting for relief from pain or illness. Waiting for guidance for difficult decisions. We can trust in a God who is faithful; who won’t leave us waiting forever. Mary herself praises God for this faithfulness in her song, rejoicing that He has been merciful “just as He promised…” (Luke 1:55). It’s a beautiful thing to trust God for the things we are waiting for. But can I also trust in His faithfulness even if He may not answer in the way I hoped? I know the pain of unmet expectations, and it is real and cuts deep, and can’t be neatly resolved through an exercise of self-reflection. But within that mess of sweat and tears I can still use that moment to ask: Will I attempt to box God into my own perspective or expectations? Or will I allow my faith to be large enough to welcome both what I hope for, and also the possibility of something I don’t expect?
On that first Christmas, what may have looked to some to be small, or messy, or ordinary or unexpected was in fact significant, beautiful, extraordinary and an integral moment in God’s grand story. Pondering that, and reflecting on a God who cannot be boxed, I ask:
I wonder what treasures lie in the seemingly small, messy, ordinary or unexpected corners of my life and circumstance today?
Jill is one of the leaders of Redhill Church in Canberra and also works in government human resources. She likes satire, winter, writing and learning things. She occasionally blogs at jillianreaysmith.com