The Christmas Surprise

I don’t play golf. That probably makes me an oddity when it comes to pastors. But, I can nevertheless appreciate the frustration of hitting a ball that is just sitting still into places that have no resemblance to where you intended it to go. One of the key rules of golf is hitting the ball where it lies, unless of course you like to use the proverbial “foot wedge” when you don’t like where the ball landed.

I heard a story about a golf course in India that has a rather unique problem–monkey infestation. Golfers hit the ball and monkeys periodically come onto the course, pick up the ball, and throw it to just about anywhere–the rough, sandtrap, even on the green! As you can imagine, this created a lot of angst among the golfers and the trustees of the course tried to correct the situation. They even constructed barriers to keep the monkeys away, but not only did this not work, but it seemed to motivate the monkeys to bring more of their friends with them. After a lot of time, energy, and money was invested to no avail, the golf course proprietors decided to add a new rule. It is probably the one course in the world with this rule: “wherever the monkey throws the ball, play it there.”

This story reminds of Joseph, Mary’s husband. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for him to have heard that his future wife was pregnant. And to realize that this baby was not his child must have devastating and the worst of all surprises. Fortunately, the beautiful nativity story has a good ending, thanks to the work of the busy angel of the Lord who told him to go ahead and take Mary as his wife.

The words of angel must have been a great surprise (and relief) to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.20-21 NIV). Equally astonishing under those circumstances is that Joseph got up from sleep and did what the angel had instructed. There isn’t much commentary or embellishment to his actions, only a focus on his obedience.

I’ve dealt with many people who have had the monkey move the ball on them this past year. There is a young man I am thinking of who has a wonderful wife and little boy who has been diagnosed with cancer. He had his life planned out it seemed, but now the ball has been moved on him and he’s having to play it from another spot. I admire his courage and determination to do that very thing. In a very real sense, he doesn’t know what the future holds for him. He’s only trying to live one day at a time, doing his best to trust the Lord in his situation.

Christmas is all about surprises, and my hope is that we will all remain open to them. I also pray that they will all be “good” surprises because those seem to easier to handle. Still, there are those other kinds of surprises which stop us in our tracks and shock us to the point of not knowing what to do or say. I have experienced this kind of sensation before also, and am drawn to the Christmas narrative and Joseph’s reaction to his shocking news. Interestingly, there aren’t any recorded words from Joseph. We do see his obedience, however, and a recognition that even though the “ball was moved”, he would “play it where it rested.” He did so when having faith didn’t make sense when compared with the facts of the situation.

The Holy Spirit is a key player in the birth narrative, and He remains and active part in our narrative today as well. May the Lord give us courage to trust him during the times when the ball gets moved, and that we would realize the the Holy Spirit has a bigger purpose for us than what our next shot or decision might be.


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