I started writing this Christmas post to accompany this image from the hills surrounding Bethlehem early in December. With anticipation and expectation I had asked the Lord to teach me something new about the Christmas story this year and a few weeks into December I thought I knew what it was going to be...
When we toured the holy land we found ourselves standing in the blinding sun squinting, peering out at shepherds fields and ancient gardens that hold stories from the black of night. A place transforms based on light. A field doesn’t seem so far away from a city in the daytime when you can see it in the distance. You can’t even glimpse the stars, though they are surely there behind the veil of brilliant blue. The fullness of the light of the sun oftentimes blinds us from the small moments in powerful stories told in the dark. Yet there we stood in the shade squinting our eyes because our tour didn’t include any nighttime stops though the stories they held surely did. On that first Christmas Day a new beginning came in the dark of night lit by handheld lamps and far away stars.
I thought that was it. God comes down in the silent black of night to bring us the everlasting light. Yes, what brilliant truths that message holds! I planned to pray and ponder over it all throughout this season as my work slowed and the holiday festivities commenced.
And then the unexpected happened. An unexpected death, an unexpected whirlwind of a trip for a funeral, unexpected sleepless nights, unexpected tears, unexpected stories. Missed meetings, rescheduled photoshoots and unsent Christmas cards and gifts all added to the list of the unplanned.
The unexpected interrupted the well laid plans I had for this Christmas season. But then isn’t that just the very heart of the Christmas story?
And there it was. If a baby born to a virgin isn’t the most unexpected story I don’t know what is. I’m sure those shepherds in that dark Bethlehem field were never in a million years expecting the heavenly hosts that would interrupt their silent night. Certainly no one thought our Savior would ever come as a humble baby boy born in a back room stable within cool stone walls.
Our God is a God of the unexpected. Though none of it is a surprise to Him.
Maybe this Christmas season what I really needed to learn is instead of agonizing over unwelcome surprises in the night to lean in and look for Him there too, like the shepherds on a Bethlehem hill lit by starlight on that very first Christmas night.
“O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight”