When I was a little girl, the Cabbage Patch Kid doll craze exploded. I didn’t ask for one the first couple of years after their premiere because I was old enough to know it was virtually impossible to find one. But when I saw the Cabbage Patch Preemie in the Sears catalogue, I couldn’t help myself because they were so cute. Even though I was getting a bit old to ask for a doll, I told my parents I really wanted one for Christmas. Soon thereafter, my Mom told me that she’d tried to order one, but they were already sold out. So, I knew in advance that I wouldn’t get one. Then, on Christmas morning, I opened a gift to find the very doll I’d wanted. Somehow, my Mom caught the exact moment on film with my mouth wide open and shock on my face. My Dad had mentioned the doll dilemma to a colleague whose wife happened to order one even though they didn’t have children at the time. She let my parents purchase the doll, which turned out to be perfect for me. The gift was made more special because it was completely unexpected.
As a grown up, I don’t relish surprises. I try to manage life so that I don’t encounter unexpected circumstances. And by that, I mean, I seek to eliminate the unexpected. I want to be organized and in control. I like to know what to expect. When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I experience anticipatory anxiety that can feel overwhelming. I worry about all the things that could go wrong. Unfortunately, I rarely focus on how the unexpected can go right. When I look back on my life, I must admit that some of the best things occurred unexpectedly. And yet, I tend to downplay those events and continue to live in fear of the unknown. In so doing, I leave little room for wonder and amazement.
Everything about the story of Jesus’ birth was unexpected. Angels showed up repeatedly with messages from God, terrifying the recipients of the news. Mary had a surprise pregnancy, and Joseph agreed to the unplanned situation despite potential shame for their fledgling family. After they traveled to another town for bureaucratic reasons, they delivered their newborn son with only a manger for a cradle. Shepherds showed up without advance notice gushing about an encounter with a whole sky full of angels, and a star eventually led three wise men to worship the baby with extravagant gifts. The most unexpected part though: Jesus, fully God, became fully human to demonstrate his great love for us.
The people in the Nativity narrative could not foresee any of the steps along their journey. Instead, they allowed God’s hopes and dreams for them to unfold in unexpected and glorious ways. Perhaps we might let go, just a little bit, of our desire to control everything about the holidays, about the future, about life, and in so doing make space to experience the unexpected. We might find our eyes open to God’s gifts of the unexpected and encounter the sacred wonder of God’s love.
The Carter Family