“Times Square” by Moody Man, 2017 (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Luke 2.1-20 (NIV)
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
I love things that defy categories and mess with my expectations.
Think of duck-billed-platypuses … what in the world is going there?
A furry mammal with a beaver tail, a bird style bill, that lays eggs and has poisonous spurs on its webbed feet? That challenges all of the animal categories I learned in elementary school! Normal categories and expectations just won’t work for a platypus … they make their own.
Or what about Tamarack trees?
The first time I saw a grove of tamarack trees in Minnesota, I was sure there had been a fire or some insect that killed a bunch of spruce trees. But that wasn’t the case. It turns out that even though tamarack are shaped like spruce trees and even though they have leaves that look a lot like needles … they aren’t evergreens. In the fall, Tamarack leaves turn yellow and fall off just like every other deciduous tree. Those trees weren’t dead, they were doing just what they were supposed to do during the winter … they just didn’t fit my limited “looks like this, so this” categories.
I especially love it when people defy categories and expectations … We are sure we know who someone is … and it turns out they aren’t what we thought at all.
A couple of times a year, when I was in seminary, New Jersey Transit would have a “free-train-week” for anyone with a student ID. During those weeks I would go to New York City as many times as I possibly could. I would explore the city until I eventually found a new library or coffee shop to do homework – sounds pretty exciting huh? One night I was walking back to the train station and noticed all these gangster-rapper-looking guys leaning against a building and trying to sell people their albums. One of them said something to me … I didn’t understand what he said … he looked straight at me and said, “What is your sweatshirt about?” Surprised, I looked down to remember what I was wearing. “What does K2 mean?” he asked. I told him it was a ski and snowboard company … I thought it was cool because my name is Kenny (K) and I am a junior (2), and I liked that it had to do with snowboarding. My brain was racing, imagining all the ways it could turn into a bad situation. Some of the other guys moved closer to us … pretty soon I was standing in Times Square talking about snowboarding with a bunch of rappers … not a situation I ever imagined myself in … then they asked me, why, if I loved snowboarding and Colorado so much, why was I in New York City … I told them I was studying to be a pastor … now I was standing in Times Square talking about seminary and being a pastor with a bunch of rappers … another situation I never imagined being part of. They were giving me their cd’s … autographing them and writing things like, “To Rev. K2, keep on saving souls.” When I was on the train back to New Jersey, I kept scratching my head … not believing I had just been standing in Times Square talking with a bunch of intimidating looking rappers about snowboarding and being a pastor … who would have predicted that?
I love the surprises life can throw at us …
… creatures that seem like some Dr. Frankenstein experiment gone wrong … but they really do exist and flourish in their environment.
Trees that seem like they are burnt out and dead, but are really thriving and full of life.
Someone you are sure wants to beat you up for your favorite sweatshirt, but instead offers encouragement and a blessing …
Maybe categories and expectations are made to be broken?
So much of the Nativity Story and the events leading up to it defy categories and expectations.
Mary, the young woman, who was engaged, but not yet married to Joseph, who didn’t have an important social position, influence, or clout – she is the one God chooses to bring his son and his plan to heal and renew the world into being? Joseph, the righteous carpenter, commits himself to Mary, her son, and God’s plan, even though it had all the potential in the world to cause scandal and pain? The one who is supposed to be God’s son and king over all the world is born in a stable, and laid for his first nap in a feeding trough? And the news is first given to shepherds who are working the graveyard shift? These shepherds are the first preachers of the good news of Christ’s arrival – not the priests … not the religious experts?
This couldn’t have been the way anyone of us would have planned it.
Jesus breaks our categories and messes with our expectations. Jesus shows up where and how we would least expect him. And you know what, I think this is really good news for us.
All those situations that seem beyond hope? All those relationships that seem broken beyond repair? Those lonely and sad moments? In our confusion and frustration? In our pain and our wounds? At work … school … around the dinner table … on the trail … the lowest valley … the summit of the mountain … in our busyness … in our monotony … in encouragement from a stranger … in a difficult conversation with a friend … God can show up where we least expect it and where we absolutely need it the most. Our categories and expectations can’t confine or contain Jesus – he is Emmanuel, he is “God with us” and seems absolutely set on surprising us.