The mallards have returned to Lane’s Cove, as they do every November, when it gets really cold. They huddle about in the grasses, nibbling gently at weeds. Elmer and I watch with interest the occasional chases, as one mallard challenges another for the best bit of flotsam. On really cold days, the ducks hunch down, like the rocks around them, laying their necks over their backs and burying their heads among the feathers of their wings. Yesterday was warm, and they wandered at the water’s edge at ebb tide, quacking and chatting over broken bits of crab and old lobster claws. Their return to the Cove in late November often coincides with Advent. Every year I feel surprised by how quickly the season arrives.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that other pastors of other churches send special letters at Advent with Christmas greetings, on beautiful stationary. I am sure I break one of the commandments, in my envy of their foresight and thoughtfulness, the loveliness of the letterheads, the colorful art on the sides of the paper, the flying angels, and manger scenes.
Why am I surprised, I think, this happens every year. It’s predictable. The first Sunday after Thanksgiving is almost always the first Sunday in Advent.
But maybe the surprise is the whole point, the sudden awareness of a great event about to happen. Consider the wise kings watching the sky for portents, day after day, age after age: maybe when the star finally rises, they are surprised, too. Or the shepherds in the fields by night, the sky brightens, and voices sing. They are surprised.
Joseph is surprised to find his wife-to-be already with child. And then perhaps, he surprises himself, by deciding to marry her anyway, and raise the boy as his own, as God’s own child. I’m sure the animals in the stable are surprised to be awakened from their slumber by the labor cries of a young woman giving birth for the first time. Perhaps not. Perhaps, the creatures take it in stride, birthing being a matter of course for them.
As a grandmother, and a mother, I knew our babies and grandbabies were coming, and watched my daughters through each pregnancy. Still, I was surprised by the first small cries in the moments after their births.
May you be surprised this holiday season. By many things, by the abundance in our lives, despite the economic blip we’re experiencing, surprised by the love in your homes, by the friendships, by the tender attention of a God who is like a mother and father, in a small stable, attending your birth, your life, your days and nights. And know that your pastor loves you, too, and wishes the very best for each of you this incredible season of joy and light. In Christ, Pastor Anne Deneen