Christmas Season Surprises!

Those of us in the Midwest have had some unusually beautiful late fall days! Although it is still a day away from the official beginning of the winter solstice at 9:27pm on December 21st, even the local tv weather person has coined a phrase, “fall-winter,” to describe the dry conditions and above average temperatures we have been enjoying for several weeks now. My fall leaf mulching detail has been extended to a few more weeks as a result!

Surprise! Not just another sunrise!
Photo credit: Granddaughter Eloise

I’m not sure if it is directly connected to the weather, but I have personally seen some awe-inspiring sunrises during this period of above average temperatures. One of our artistic granddaughters, Eloise, captured such a gorgeous sunrise just a few days ago on her Friday car ride to school. She has an eye for beauty and found God’s handiwork that morning to be an excellent palette for her photo! She would be surprised to hear the following Sunday morning how her pastor had gotten up early to finish his sermon on that same day and similarly encountered the Creator’s dazzling design at break of day!

I am sure that you have seen some unbelievably beautiful sunrises over the years. Have they become so frequent in your experiences that you no longer see the uniqueness in them? I wonder if you have had that same ho-hum and boredom during this Christmas season. Over nearly fifty years of active pastoral ministry, I have tried to fight the tendency to think I already know everything about this season and not be open to the new surprises God wants me to experience!

Awaiting shouts of surprise!
My wife, Monique, works extremely hard to keep the element of surprise in this season. Over the years, we have documented numerous (and often staged!) entrances into the family room where everyone would gather around the Christmas tree for gift-giving! This year will be no different as excited recipients and their parents, with cell phone cameras in the ready, anticipate the event. Serving as our resident Mrs. Santa, Monique, will hand each grandchild and adult their carefully selected presents. Each recipient will have to open their gifts in front of everyone so that all the family can share the joyful shouts of surprise as each ribbon and wrapping are stripped away!

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was divinely chosen for her role in the Christmas story. Will Willimon, in his recent book on Advent, described how Mary was willing to be surprised and then humbly submitted to playing her part in God’s plan to save the world. Dr. Willimon reflects and paraphrases his observations from the scriptural account in Luke 1:26-38. He says, “Mary realizes that she is somebody, blessed, fortunate, (and) given a job to do… (she) is the ‘first disciple’… to be called by God to take part in the good newsing of the world.” Willimon continues, “I will praise her for her courageous determination and wild willingness to be jolted by the promises of God and say, ‘God only knows where all this is headed, but count me in!’” (Heaven and Earth, Abingdon Press, p.107).

I can’t imagine how Mary, a marginalized and vulnerable young teenager, could take in all the angel’s revelation in that moment, but she is a model of humble submission and “wild willingness” to obey God. I am grateful because each of us are recipients of that salvation that resulted from her devotion.

The next time God speaks to us about His plan for our lives, let’s respond like Mary, “Lord, I don’t know where all of this is headed, but count me in!

Merry Christmas to you and your family! Thank you for taking time to read these weekly reflections! You are a blessing to me!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,

active churchman and
doting grandparent.




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