Season of Surprises (Advent 1)

Isaiah 2:1-5
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
1 Advent – 12/3/13
The Rev. Rosemary Beales

This is a season of surprises.

I am always surprised at this time of year that it IS this time of year again! I am surprised at what a distant memory summer seems. I am surprised at how early it gets dark, and how dark it gets. I am surprised at the difference one small candle makes in the gathering gloom. But that’s not the surprise I’m thinking about.

Here on the first week of a new church year, the first week of Advent, I’m thinking about Advent calendars, which are full of surprises. This year, the first day of Advent neatly lines up with the first day of December, and many of you have opened the little windows, or doors, or drawers, on your Advent calendars with anticipation. What picture, what scripture verse, perhaps what shape of chocolate awaits you? It’s always a surprise, but that’s not the surprise I’m thinking about.

Soon, wrapped boxes will appear in our homes –- mysterious packages tied in paper and ribbon. Who can guess what’s inside? No peeking, no shaking, now, because you would not want to spoil the surprise. But Christmas gifts are not the surprise I’m thinking about.

I am not even talking about the most wonderful gift of all, the great event we celebrate at the end of these four long weeks of getting ready. In Bethlehem, a baby is born, and a light shines in the darkness. That GOD would choose to be born as a helpless and vulnerable baby is amazing, but that’s not the surprise I’m thinking about.

The babe of Bethlehem grew up to surprise everyone. Born in a barn, he turned out to be a king, though not the kind of king that people expected. Here was a king who served; a king who suffered; a king who saved. Yet even THAT is not the surprise I have in mind.

The prophet Isaiah had a glimpse of the surprises to come. Eight hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah dreamed God’s dream of a time of peace and fulfillment.

We heard his words today, but perhaps not with the power they had so long ago. We hear them as a tender fantasy that gets blurred in our imaginations with Narnia, Middle Earth, and maybe even Hogwarts. After all, a time when warriors beat their swords into plowshare – a time when people stop fighting and start feeding one another — a time when when people long to learn the ways of the Lord — It all seems so fanciful, so . . . impossible.

The surprise in the Isaiah reading is that this vision is for US. God is still working out his purpose, that all peoples will one day stream to the house of the Lord, that nation wil no longer lift up sword against nation and that no God’s children will study war no more. As impossibly far away as that vision seems, God is still working on it.

No one knows when that vision will be fulfilled. Even Jesus once told us that he didn’t know the hour or the day when God would make all things new. But he did tell us this, good advice for the Advent season:
He said,
Stay awake.
Be ready.

That’s what we’ll do for the next four weeks, and beyond
Here, today, we watch. We wait. And in the darkness of unknowing, we light one candle.

Welcome to the season of surprises. Welcome to Advent.

About threegreatdays

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales is a Godly Play Trainer in the U.S.; an Episcopal Priest; Chaplain at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia; a Godly Play Practitioner since 1996; and a mother and grandmother. Every day I get to be with 400 children at school and on weekends when I'm lucky, with my four terrific grandsons and three lively granddaughters. As a Godly Play practitioner, I want to spread the word about this life-giving, Montessori-based way of nurturing children in the Christian story and life. Godly Play, the creation of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman and his wife Thea, is used in many denominations and in many countries, and has been translated into at least seven languages. This blog is not an official publication of the Godly Play Foundation (see but seeks to be a clearinghouse for ideas and experiences of teachers, trainers, and parents. Join the conversation!

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