Rev. Fr. Dimitrios J. Antokas is the Presiding Priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Gene Weingarten, wrote a piece awhile ago about a street performer playing a violin at the top of the escalator outside the L’Enfant Plaza metro station in Washington, DC. He played some of the most inspiring classical music ever written, and the rushing commuters just passed him by, seemingly unaware.
Dressed in worn jeans, a ratty t-shirt, and baseball cap, he played for nearly an hour. Hardly anyone stopped—except the children. They were magically drawn to him and to what they heard. Twenty-seven people put money in his empty violin case on the ground. The total came to $31.21, which is not bad for an hour’s work. The violinist was actually Joshua Bell, one of the most famous concert violinists in the world. The violin he played was an original Stradivarius purchased for a reported $3.5 million.
Bell normally plays in Moscow, Vienna, London, Paris, New York, and Prague. He earns up to $1,000 a minute for his actual playing. But the commuters didn’t pay attention to him; they didn’t “recognize” him. Consequently, they didn’t hear him. He brought the music of the ages unexpectedly to a public metro station at 7:50 a.m. Who would have expected such a world-class musician to be playing among the hustle-bustle and trance-like parade of Washington’s sleepy commuters?
The Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ is exactly that, God coming unexpectedly into our world as one of us. What rational person would have anticipated it? The birth of Jesus tells us that God moves into our space with surprise. He upsets the predicted, he contradicts the normal running of our lives, He is where we would never expect Him to be and, often, is not where we think we will find Him. While we think that we have God “figured out,” we confront the Christmas truth that Jesus Christ is God-Unexpected.
He came not to a home but to a cave. He was born of a virgin. He was born not in the light of day but by the shadowed light of the night stars. He was born not as the earthly king or military warrior as was anticipated for centuries, but as a helpless baby totally reliant on those around Him. Our Holy Father
St. John Chrysostom expressed it this way: “Do you see how, where God wills, the laws of nature are overcome and reversed? The natural and predicted order is put aside and the Divine will works as it wants. How unpredictable is the presence of God!”
It is the nature of God to shock and surprise in the places, the people, and the experiences we least expect. What does God-the-Unexpected mean for our lives? He means we have to look, to listen, and to allow ourselves to be loved.
Seeing the Miracle That Is Our Lord
Like the violinist at L’Enfant Plaza metro, God can go unnoticed in our lives. We can pass Him by, live as though He didn’t live, and therefore miss the mystic music of Grace seeking to touch our hearts. Firstly, We need to look for God. By looking for God, I don’t mean searching for someone who isn’t there in our lives. I mean that we need to become more aware that He IS there, coming to us in countless people and experiences. You and I need to practice the Presence of God. The 17th century Monk Lawrence counsels us: “Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God’s presence. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.” (from The Practice of the Presence of God)
We need to pay attention to God not in dramatic visionary ways but in the everyday things of our lives—in our spouse who may be insecure or anxious or unsure of our love, in the one child in our family who seems to get in trouble and is needy more than the others, in that relative who drives us crazy or with whom we have had a conflict and now hold a consuming grudge, in a colleague at work who seems manipulative or scheming to advance.
Look for God in the destitute homeless person the street, who follows us asking not principally for money but that we give them attention and recognize their humanity, thereby recognizing God’s divinity in him or her. The person does not want brilliant theories about poverty, and society, and the welfare system. All he or she may want is recognition as a human being, our complete attention and perhaps to have a hot meal with someone who cares.
In all these people comes God-the-Unexpected. In them, Christ is born anew. Secondly, We need to listen for God. The theologian Fr. Karl Rahner once remarked, “It is not man who cries out to God seeking to be heard. It is God who cries out to man seeking to be heard.”
When is the last time you heard the voice of God? He speaks through our struggling world, amid the tides of unrest, violence, oppression, poverty, and the pandemic abuse of women. He speaks in our successes, our good deeds, our generous hearts, and our triumphs over darkness. His voice can be heard in hospital rooms, funeral homes, on buses and at metro stations, in half-way houses and homeless shelters, even in our own kitchens, living rooms, and family cars. Have we seriously listened for Him?
Like the tired commuters who passed by Joshua Bell at 7:50 a.m. and never heard a note of his incredible music, so we can live our every day deaf to God’s voice calling to us, asking of us, poking and prodding us to hear Him. Most importantly, He calls to us within our very selves, to uplift us, to tell us how much we mean to Him, to let us know that He will see us through our darkest nights, our brilliant, shining days, and will never, ever leave our sides. Have you stopped to listen for God? In these places and in ourselves, comes God-the-Unexpected. Christ is born anew!
Lastly, We need to allow ourselves to be loved by God. It was the Prophet Jeremiah who perhaps gave us the most revealing words of God to His people. After centuries of betrayal and ignoring the original covenant made with Abraham, He tells the erring Jewish people: “Behold, I have loved you with an everlasting love and with loving kindness I have drawn you to myself.”
The core of encountering God-the-Unexpected is to allow Him to actually love us. We can think of a thousand reasons why God shouldn’t love us—our sins, our mistakes, our guilt and shame, our indifference to Him, how we have disappointed Him and let Him down, how we have hurt others. These things can obscure from us the most important fact of all: God does not love us because we are “all together.” He loves us because we are wounded and imperfect. He loves us because we are the sick ones for whom the Physician came, because He sees in the very private place of our person something that we ourselves often forget or never see—that there is a yearning in our hearts that we long to have filled, and He alone can fill it. He alone can fill it!
Christ is born anew in every effort we make to let God love us as we are and as we will become. The Nativity season is all about the coming of God-the-Unexpected. Look for Him, listen for Him, and be loved by Him. What do we gain if Jesus is born in thousands of caves all over the world during Christmas, but is not born in our hearts and in our lives? Wonder of wonders! From that ancient Bethlehem cave still those tiny arms are outstretched to us with the begging voice of God: “Dear child, let me love you!”
To the Unexpected God, Jesus the Christ, be all blessing, honor and power this day and forevermore. Amen! Amen!
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