Christmas is almost here. (Most) of the shopping is no doubt done for you and your family, save perhaps for a last minute trip to the grocery store to make sure the Christmas table has everything the season demands. We are nearing that beautiful transition from Advent watchfulness to the joy and glory of Christmas. The day of fulfillment is upon us. Our waiting shall be rewarded.

Here we take a cue from the first Advent of Jesus. The joy and glory of the first Christmas were not at all what Israel (or Joseph and Mary) expected. The biggest, most beautiful moments of God’s goodness are never exactly what we expect. But they are the perfect fulfillment of every promise, precisely what we need, and overflowing with far more than we could have ever asked for.

A fresh reading of the birth narratives of Jesus reveal this surprising quality at every turn. Israel was promised a savior; a Messiah like David; deliverance from its bondage; renewed life; and a turning back toward the heart of God. And while many in Israel were deeply engaged with the hard work of anticipating this deliverance, the fulfillment of the promises were not what they or anyone else expected.

Even those to whom explicit instructions were given by angelic messengers had no idea what that fulfillment was going to be like. Jesus, the very son of God, came upon them as something utterly new. He would save them, not only from the earthly things that they knew to fear, but from the wickedness and idolatry at the very center of their culture. He was Messiah, the anointed one, but he combined prophet, priest, and king in a way never before seen in the history of Israel (or the world). He would deliver them from bondage that they did not even see. He would give them a renewed life that would overflow into eternity. They would turn back to the heart of God in ways that no Jew or Gentile even thought possible—the heart of God would come to dwell inside them through the Holy Spirit and people from every tribe and tongue would be welcomed to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Everything they were expecting—and far, far more. It took the brightest thinkers in the church decades (centuries!) to work out the depths of what had happened when Jesus broke into our world. In many ways, we are still working out what it means for God’s people today. When God moves, he does everything right. But very often, it’s far beyond what we expect.

This is Christmas. This is our time to expect his coming anew into our hearts. This is a time to receive the gift of Jesus again, to look with fresh eyes on what God has done and is doing now among us. In giving us his very great and precious promises, we can be sure he will fulfill them all to the least detail. But the how will always be surprising.

Wait and watch, for Christmas dawns. Look for his coming among you. And expect to be surprised.