unexpected and mysterious


Unexpected and mysterious is the gentle word of grace.
Everloving 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.

The title of this blog – in which I share preaching and reflection – comes from an advent hymn1 of the same name. I treasure Unexpected and Mysterious because its text tells the truth about my deepest needs in the face of my deepest pain. Despite failure and weakness, in my personal life or in my work, God’s tenderness and compassion hold me. I need this unexpected and mysterious grace.

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 eternity of the divine collides with our dimensions of time and space in the person of Jesus. Advent is my favorite season because the doctrine of the Incarnation is something I feel in my bones: God is not far off, nor removed from the reality that my body lives, but is in real solidarity with me. God knows what it’s like to have a mother, to grow up singing with her, songs of protest (Luke 1:46-55); God had an auntie and a cousin; God struggled and did brave things and doubted and failed.

The act of preaching is a proclamation that God’s solidarity with us continues, even into the history we are living now. In the words of liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, “to preach the good news is for the Church to be a sacrament of history.”2 In preaching, our mundane is revealed as sacred; what we are living now is important and full of possibility because in our midst, God is working liberation and reconciliation for all creation – even for us.

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.

Even as preaching proclaims God’s radical solidarity with us in Christ, it also names the alienation and pain in the world for what it is. God has already acted in the person of Jesus, but the world does not yet experience the fullness of healing and redemption. In the space between already and not yet, we watch and wait – and we also work, and we risk.

Because of God’s action – unexpected and mysterious grace – we are free to be the ones who show solidarity, who embody compassion, who struggle to birth a kin-dom3 here, in our history, in which that grace is truly present and felt. If we mess up, we are held. We have nothing to lose but our old fears. God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

1Unexpected and Mysterious, Text © 2002 Jeannette M. Lindholm, admin. Augsburg Fortress.
2Gustavo Gutierrez, Essential Writings, (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996), 251.
3A term preferred to “kingdom” by some feminist Christians. Kin-dom refers to the reign of God (held in contrast to the world as it is) – the focus of Jesus’s teaching and our preaching – in which all ruptured relationship in creation is restored to the wholeness of beloved community.

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