It is often said that God is a God of surprises. I like that. I like it when God takes us by surprise. Although God’s love and holiness are constant, in many ways He might seem unpredictable. Let me explain why I think this is the case…
He was certainly unpredictable about the people He chose to serve him. Our Lord Jesus could have chosen disciples who were great orators, generals or politicians – but instead he chose simple folk, folk just like you and me. I don’t know about you, but that gives me hope, hope right here and right now that God can choose us. That whatever we have experienced in life, we can have new life – and new purpose – in Him. God transforms; God makes the mundane miraculous, the ordinary extraordinary and the humble holy.
Of all the places that Jesus could have been born, he was born in Bethlehem, not in some ornate palace, but in a manger. Who would have that the Son of God would choose that? We also read of the Shepherds who came to see the infant child and fell on their knees and worshipped him or the Wise Men who also fell on their knees and worshipped him. The stable in Bethlehem had become a palace. He lived and came from Nazareth in Galilee, from some quiet backwater with nothing to really commend it. The Light of the World stepped into our darkness – God at work again, surprising and transforming.
And of course, the fact that Jesus came and dwelt among us in human form, fully God yet fully man, is also God surprising us. Who would have thought that God would choose to do something like that? The fact that Jesus was incarnated speaks volumes…he can truly say I know what it is to be human, to experience everything that we experience in our humanity.
Our 1st reading speaks of the water that saves; the water of baptism that gives us the “pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” Had you realised that? It reminds us that we have been saved, we have been cleansed from sin. Through baptism the seal of the Holy Spirit is placed upon us which signifies that we belong to God; we are his children, we are cleansed and redeemed. Do we live our lives with that clear conscience, as saved sinners? We are saved “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It seems somehow so easy to forget that, and to live in condemnation. Our being children of God is what defines us.
And then we come to our second reading which speaks of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus was without sin, and had no reason to be baptised – but he chose to be baptised to show us the way and to be obedient. Astonishingly we are told that as soon as Jesus had been baptised, he was sent out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Yet again, there is a surprise. God the Father has just told His Son, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” For me, the last thing I would have expected would have been for him to be sent out into the wilderness!
Jesus didn’t check himself in to a Five star hotel. He came into the brokenness of the world, he spent time with the outcasts, the unclean, the sinners, the broken. And he proclaimed a message of truth that they needed to hear…“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The thing is folks, we may constantly be surprised by God – but He knows exactly what he is doing. Do we know that? Do we really know that? Do we trust in him? I think it is good when God surprises us; it wakes us from our spiritual slumber and galvanises us into being and into doing for His mercy’s sake. It is a message we need to hear today, a message we need to remind ourselves of constantly, and it is a message we need to claim for ourselves. May we always be surprised by God, by what He can accomplish in this place, by how he can transform our lives, and by how we may accomplish his purposes. May He step into our darkness and use us to His glory in all ways. Amen