Unexpected and Mysterious- an Advent devotional for Dec. 11, 2017

This Advent season I am going to reflect on a hymn or carol daily as part of my spiritual practices. I am not sure where all these reflections will take me, but in conversation with my spiritual director, I am going to leave room for both “the head stuff” and “the heart stuff.” Some days might be more of one or another. I invite you to join me, as together we make space to listen, and be present, to sense what God might be up to. 

Today I am humming a newer Advent hymn, “Unexpected and Mysterious,” which may not be as familiar as some that I have reflected on so far this Advent. The tune called “St. Helena” was written by Calvin Hampton in 1977, and the text that is set to it comes from Jeanne Lindholm, written in 2002. I love it because it is a rich text, with a beautiful tune that flows off the tongue, and a tune that is just mysterious enough that it adds even more richness to the text.

Unexpected and mysterious is the gentle word of grace.
Ever loving and sustaining is the peace of God’s embrace.
If we falter in our courage and we doubt what we have known,
God is faithful to console us as a mother tends her own.

Perhaps this comes to mind today because I spent some time thinking about the Magnificat earlier this morning in contemplating some stewardship themes for preaching this coming weekend. “God is faithful to console us as a mother tends her own.” This is such beautiful imagery for God.

Speaking of “Unexpected,” these gifts greeted us at the synod office today from our friend Tracy. Thank you Tracy!

I also appreciate the theology of wonder. “Unexpected and mysterious…” highlights the fact that we don’t have all the answers. We don’t know everything. And perhaps, even though our human nature would like to think we could control and know all, this really is a freeing gift. In this Advent season I am finding appreciation for this, especially in this time of waiting as Allison and I know that we will be parents soon. It’s kind of surreal. We can prepare, but we have no idea what we’re going to feel and experience. Even in the midst of that mystery, is the larger mystery of God and God’s grace and love.

In a momentary meeting of eternity and time,
Mary learned that she would carry both the mortal and divine.
Then she learned of God’s compassion, of Elizabeth’s great joy,
and she ran to greet the woman who would recognize her boy.

The theology again is so rich. “In a momentary meeting of eternity and time,” which then rhymes with “mortal and divine.” Ah, the mystery of God. The mystery of God in Christ- fully human, and fully divine. It’s a mystery that transcends all human understanding, and again perhaps that is a gift. As we ponder the incarnation this Advent season, we do so not trying to explain the mysteries of God, but to sit with them and embrace them.

We are called to ponder mystery and await the coming Christ,
to embody God’s compassion for each fragile human life.
God is with us in our longing to bring healing to the earth,
while we watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth. 

The mystery leads to our response- the way we live our lives. The way we are called to “ponder,” “await,” “embody God’s compassion,” “watch” and “wonder.”

The group of carolers from Salem Lutheran Church yesterday.

I appreciate especially in this verse the reminder and call to “embody God’s compassion for each fragile human life.” Yesterday, I was out caroling with a group from my congregation. We visited an assisted living facility, another elder care/nursing home type facility, an apartment complex, and even some of us briefly visited the local hospital. I can’t speak for everyone in that group, but my heart was filled to see the joy and love in people’s faces to have a few moments of visitors bringing messages of joy and peace through song, and then greetings through smiles, handshakes and brief conversations.

I am also sitting today with the reminder that “God is with us in our longing to bring healing to the earth…” I am struck by the headlines on many news sites today. For example, there was an “attempted terrorist attack” in New York City. There is also more news today of potential victims of abuse by men in power in politics and others of celebrity. Speaking of politics, Alabama will be voting for its next senator tomorrow. Obviously there is more in the news today than these three stories, but they highlight the need for healing, peace, and justice.

I find hope and comfort in the words of “Unexpected and Mysterious” today as I go about my work, and also stay engaged in the world around me. Perhaps you might find them of comfort too?


Credit/Reference: Jeannette M. Lindholm, “Unexpected and Mysterious,” Calvin Hampton, (Text- 2002, Music- 1977). Found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 258. Licensed under OneLicense, LicenSing, and Augsburg Fortress.

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