‘Contrary to Expectations’

The Greek root of the word ‘paradox’ means ‘contrary to expectations.’ A paradox is a statement that is seemingly contradictory yet is true. Writers use paradox to draw in a reader’s attention until the apparent contradiction can be resolved.

In many ways, the arrival of the awaited Messiah was written into the biblical narrative as paradox- contrary to expectations, intended to draw in the attention of millions who would read this story for thousands of years to come.

The birth of Jesus Christ was especially contrary to the expectations of those who experienced the story firsthand. Though scripture had hinted different, God’s people were expecting a mighty conquering King. They waited four hundred years for Messiah to come, end their oppression and restore their kingdom’s rule.

After these seemingly countless generations of God’s silence, an angel appeared with good news- spoken only at first to a humble young virgin who’d been chosen to bear God’s Son. Mary had been expecting a marriage and a simple life ahead. How could this be true?

Joseph had been working to ready all his family would need. What was he supposed to do?

The angel’s confirmation was sufficient for these two to set off on their long journey, filled with one paradox after another.

They headed to Bethlehem to register for the census called for of the entire Roman empire yet fulfilling precisely prophecy spoken hundreds of years before.

There was no room for them in the inn. The long-expected King was birthed into a cruel bed of hay in a cold and lonely stable.

The hoped-for help of all of Israel came as a helpless infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.

The Prince who would bring peace rested peacefully in his weary mother’s arms.

The Savior of the World who would die hung high a cross while many watched was born that holy night with the witness of only his parents and a few gazing animals.

The shepherds were out keeping the night’s watch over their flocks when an angel appeared with their unexpected news. This humble, unknown crew was ushered into the redemption story as they hurried off to Bethlehem searching for the baby.

These rough-edged sheep-keepers were the first to bow and worship before the One at whose name every knee will one day bow.

They were the first missionaries, taking the gospel good news back over their hills that would one day be heard throughout the world.

Yes, into that cold and dark and quiet night, the Light of the World made His appearance in a most unexpected way.

God Most High took on frail flesh and made His dwelling here among us. (John 1:14)

This child’s name was to be Jesus- He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

He was to be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

He was to be Emmanuel- God with us (Matthew 1:23).

He who was to be all these things was born an infant on that first silent night.

God sent His Son.

For us.

Isn’t that a paradox in itself?

As I contemplate my life, as we often do this time of year, I can relate to “contrary to expectations.” It is quite easy to create a long list of all the ways my life has not been what I expected. Unexpected news, unexpected changes, unexpected challenges. How can this be true? What am I supposed to do?

Like Mary and Joseph, and the Shepherds, and the Wise Men who would follow after, our lives are filled with paradox. The One writing our stories uses these unexpected, apparent contradictions to get our attention, and often the attention of those around us. They draw us in to Him- so we may look to Him- until the apparent contradiction can be resolved.

This year especially has been not what we expected. Yet in this Christmas moment, the paradox of it all can be resolved by the reminder of the sweet presence and peace of the Savior of the world, filling our hearts and giving us strength to continue on the unexpected journey He’s already prepared ahead for us.

God uses the foolish things of this world to show His great wisdom.

He uses brokenness to bring His healing and wholeness.

God takes our weakness and gives His strength.

He takes what we can’t believe is happening and uses it to grow our belief in Him even more.

In my list of ways life has not been what I expected, God Himself has been ‘contrary to expectation.’ He has been so much more than I could ever have dreamed or imagined. And while that list contains things that have been less than I expected, truly it is full of many things that have been so much more than I expected.

God has been faithful, and He has been good. His grace and mercy have overflowed in my life in ways I never could have expected.

At Christmas this year, may we all see clearer this unexpected Savior and all the unexpected ways He has gotten our attention and drawn us into His story. May we allow Him to resolve the seeming contradictions- for our good and for His glory.

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