To help us understand the magic of Christmas we can take a look at what magic invokes in us. Even when we think we understand what is happening in front of us, there are specific emotions and feelings inside of us that help make the moment memorable.
A magic trick often begins with something simple and mundane. Take an ordinary object and do something with or to it. Hide it. Put it in a box. It may be out of sight but is isn’t out of mind. With every act a tension builds.
Just like a child who sees a wrapped Christmas gift under the tree with their name on it. It is hidden, but a similar tension builds as the child imagines what could be inside.
The greater the tension the greater the reaction when the trick turns or the gift opens. And then … Surprise!
The Tension of Waiting
The amount of impact a surprise has on us is partly dependent upon the tension that builds while we wait for something to happen. It is like the scene in the movie Elf where Buddy (Will Farrell) serves as a Jack-in-the-Box tester. The notes of the music progress as he turns the handle until – POP!
During the unfolding of magic trick, the tension is obvious to us. We feel the anticipation. Our bodies inch closer to the edge of our seat. Eyes are wide to hopefully catch every detail. So when the turn comes and the trick sinks in we feel the emotion of the surprise.
We could think of the excitement and waiting to open the biggest present under the tree, or a gift from someone special to us, or even to see someone special open our gift for them. But the biggest surprises of Christmas are the ones we long for but may not actively wait for.
Longings of the Heart
The birth of Jesus was a surprise delivered more to those who were not looking than those who were. We could assume the Magi were looking as a group actively aware of the stars and their courses. What about the shepherds, the people of Bethlehem, or Herod?
We know the Jews were hoping to cast off Roman rule. Before and after Jesus there were others who tried to stand as one of the Judges of old and rally Israel to freedom. There was an unrest in their souls, but it was a feeling God’s chosen people had known for centuries.
Longing filled their hearts. Hopes rose and fall as the next leader or group tried to move forward. They would hope but not truly wait. Imagine if children ran to the Christmas tree year after year to pretty boxes that were empty inside. They might still come next time. Would they really be excited? Ready for a surprise?
Surprised by Jesus
Does that make the miracle of the earthly birth of the heavenly Son of God any less of a surprise? With the exception of Herod and his court, all surprised by the news were filled with joy.
The wise men saw the star appear and began making preparations for a long journey which was dangerous in their time. They chose extravagant and expensive gifts for a unique King they were sure arrived though they had not seen Him.
The shepherds were some of the most oblivious to what was about to happen. How quickly their stupor turned to fear and was then replaced with joy at the surprise they witnessed.
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.LUKE 2:16-18 NIV
You might think 2020 has sprung enough surprises on us this year. It is hard to argue with the feeling. My hope for us is to be surprised by Jesus again.
We go through these days wondering what each will bring. Will things get better today, stay the same, or be worse? Does Christmas even have a place in this crazy COVID-19 world? It certainly does because what we need is a Jesus surprise: for Him to come, even when we are not looking for Him, because we desperately need Him.
We may not feel the excitement of the tension as the magic unfolds before our eyes, but the longings in our hearts are waiting for release. Surprise us, O Lord! Appear suddenly is power and glory.
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