Surprise!

  
Once upon a time, several years ago, on a cold morning in north Georgia, I was making the short drive from my house to the grocery store. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and once again I was keeping my personal vow to never go Christmas shopping on that day. My plan was to pick up some cookie ingredients and head back home for a day of baking. I was wishing that I’d warmed up the SUV before setting out, though. As I rounded a curve on the small country road leading into town, I saw the flashing lights of a sheriff’s patrol car heading my way. Behind him was the long, slow line of a funeral procession.

Here in the South, we pull over to the side of the road when we meet a funeral, so that’s what I did. I remember thinking that Thanksgiving would never again be the same for this grieving family. As my car idled and warmed, I gave thanks for our family’s gathering just the day before and said a quick prayer for the person about to be laid to rest. The hearse passed by me and I prayed the Sign of the Cross. A dozen or so cars came by me before the end of the procession. I was about to shift my car back into “drive” again and go on my way. That’s when it happened.

I heard it before I saw it. And when I saw it, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. For a long few seconds, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The loud “thump” I’d just heard was the sound of a small brown monkey landing on the hood on my car. It looked at me through the windshield with its tiny black eyes, unblinking. I could see the small puffs of its breath in the freezing air. It was wearing a little black collar around its neck. And then, it leapt off my hood and in a couple of bounds, crossed the road and disappeared into the thick cedar grove on the other side. Like it had never happened.  

HAD it happened? Had a capuchin monkey just looked at me through my windshield on this freezing November morning in north Georgia? Yes, I decided. This had really happened. First the funeral, then the monkey, and then both of them were gone. I looked over to where the monkey had run into the cedar trees, but it was a solid wall of green-black branches. It had to have been a lost pet of course. Surely someone would be looking for it. This happened years before social media, which can be such a big help in reuniting owners and pets. So I went on my way.  

You’re probably wondering what the heck my monkey story has to do with Advent and Christmas. Well, I can’t imagine a more surprising event than the God of the Universe choosing to be born as a poor baby in a manger. The Incarnation is the most improbable occurrence in the history of the world. An angel appears to a Virgin–surprise! She conceives a Child by the Holy Spirit–surprise! She tells St. Joseph she’s expecting–surprise! He chooses to love and marry her anyway–surprise! Wise men come bearing expensive gifts–surprise! The whole story is one big shocking surprise after another.

Our God shocks us with His great love and mercy by His coming to live as one of us, die on the Cross for us, and rise again to save us. And He’ll surprise us when He comes again. Advent is the time to prepare our hearts for His coming at Bethlehem, for meeting Him at the end of our lives, and for His coming again at the end of time. Life happens in the blink of an eye, and its worth should never be forgotten. Before you know it, you’ll be asking, “Did that really happen? Was that real?” Be ready. Be vigilant. Love and forgive with all your heart. Welcome all of God’s surprises with open arms and thankfulness. His hope will always find you.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

             —Jeremiah 29:11

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