Not Quite What I Had Expected
(Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – 25 December 2022 – Christmas Day)
Text: 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. (Luke 2v4-5)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers
There is on the various streams of Social Media that are available, (and often there are so many it seems they are not a stream but a torrent to compare with Noah’s Flood!) a quirky little group who translate things for those people who speak English but do not yet understand all the nuances of Britishness.
Very British Problems is a wonderful group of British Stiff Upper-Lippers who, heirs of Professor Henry Higgins, are exasperated that, though their fellow English speakers may be able to mouth words, they do not always understand the gentle twists and turns of their mother tongue.
Let me give some examples of their work;
When, and this is mostly men, are asked by their nearest and dearest if they got everything on the shopping list, the reply might be, ‘They didn’t have any’ which actually means ‘I forgot to look.’
When someone is criticised they may say ‘That’s a bit harsh’, but are probably saying under their breath, ‘I’ve never been so insulted in my life!’
If ever someone, particularly if they are one of the shakers and movers of society, opines ‘With all due respect’ they are almost certainly biting their tongue and wishing they could say, ‘I’m absolutely livid!’
And then, when a giant asteroid is tumbling earthwards and the epicentre of its landfall will be the Home Counties the words ‘Ah well, never mind, eh’ translates as ‘It appears that everything has gone spectacularly wrong and all my dreams are crushed.’
There is one more magnificent understatement, beloved of British Dads on Christmas Day, which perhaps crowns them all.
Surrounded by your family in the Front Room festooned with turkey and tinsel all are gathered together for that most precarious of Christmas rituals, the sharing of presents!
Everyone wants to be excited by each other’s gifts and so the obligatory fixed grins are nailed securely in place before even one piece of wrapping paper is unfolded. All goes well(ish) until it comes to Dad who lovingly holding yet another tie/novelty jumper/coffee mug, or in my case pair of socks, says to the gathered throng, ‘Its not quite what I had expected’ while trying to not say ‘What fresh hell is this’.
Christmas overflows with expectation; after all the church has spent four weeks in Advent getting ready and the supermarkets started sometime in September! Sometimes, if we are not careful we can make it all about the expectation instead of the experience. And if things turn out to be ‘not quite what we expected’ we may fall into the trap of always waiting for Christmas and it never ever arriving.
Mary and Joseph were expecting.
After all the confusion, undoubted calumny, and embarrassment they went through over there ‘unexpected’ pregnancy they probably deserved a quiet ‘Holy Night’ at home in Nazareth rather than squatting in someone’s outbuilding in Bethlehem
They had a right to expect, if not the modern family leave after the birth, at least a little rest and recuperation while neighbours popped in with a casserole and family members came to coo over the baby.
What happened instead was ‘not quite what they expected’;
a journey across the country at the behest of the Inland Revenue.
grubby shepherds and Foreigners (albeit gift bearing wealthy ones) barging in on the remains of whatever plans they may have had.
And then, so very soon afterwards, fleeing to a foreign land for fear that the new life for which they had fought would be snuffed out by the authorities.
I guess the first Christmas was ‘not quite what was expected’.
But that is exactly why the first Christmas was there; unexpected things had already happened!
Things were ‘not quite what was expected’ for God at the beginning of creation. The One in whom we find our being and purpose had a plan for love to be born. A plan to build a Paradise wherein love could blossom with the human race, you and I, manifesting what love can do in a place called Eden. Well that didn’t work out as expected did it?
So God tried again.
The plan this time did not involve a picture-perfect Paradise but a hurried mess of politics and persecutions, a cry in the night, and a flight to a foreign land.
Christmas was ‘not quite what was expected’ either but, as is their wont, a baby was born and the world was set on the path to salvation regardless of any plans made by Mary, Joseph or Herod.
For some of us this Christmas, and the last few Christmases for that matter, have been ‘not quite what was expected’. Covid continues to threaten us, death has touched many of our lives, and almost everyone is living in straightened circumstances. As I have said before the future is not what it used to be.
And this is true not only for our own little church family but for our town as well.
The wonderful godly people who have been working overtime (sometimes to the point of tears) to meet the needs of those who visit Pushchair Pitstop and use the Parish Pantry bear daily witness to that.
The food laden tables in this very church are testimony that too many people having ‘not quite what they expected’ as their Christmas gift.
If the Bethlehem story, with all its twist and turns, shepherds and magi, angels and soldiers, tell us one thing it is this. No matter what our plans are, God is present in the middle of the mess.
And it does not matter how we came to be in this unexpected place. Every one of us finds ourselves where we are for different reasons. It may be the force of circumstance, the deeds of others, our own carelessness, or even because of our good old-fashioned sin. Regardless of the place or state in which we find ourselves Christ is born, given the name Emmanuel, and God is indeed with us.
This is the long expected Christmas gift for which we have been waiting and longing.
This is the Christmas gift that will fill the emptiness of our lives.
This is the Christmas gift which, in the cry of a new-born baby, wipes away our tears and transforms our sadness and disappointments into hope and joy!
Christ is born today, our anxious lives are given purpose, and the Prince of Peace begins the journey of our redemption.
There is an Easter word for this unexpected love… Alleluia!
Merry Christmas beloved friends and may the King of the angels dwell in your homes and hearts today and every day.
Note: This blog ‘Not Quite What I had Expected’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2022. It may be reproduced free of charge on condition that the source is acknowledged.