Receiving the Unexpected



This past Sunday was full of the finest music the season can offer. I actually got to attend two services, one here at home at Prairie Baptist, and one in Georgia that evening. The morning service was a Ceremony of Candles, focused on the light that is breaking in with the expectation of Jesus. The evening service probed the question “How Shall We Know Him?’ even as the choirs and orchestra pleaded for Emmanuel to come.

About two-thirds through the tapestry of music in the evening, a young man experienced respiratory complications and needed medical attention. The music ceased as the congregation anxiously awaited resolution of the situation. Finally, the minister of music stood and thanked every one for coming and announced that the program would not go forward. People were noticeably disappointed, but care for a young father who had made special effort to see his little daughter in choir took priority. Many lingered out of concern, and the doctors and nurses of the congregation were attentive.



I went to visit the minister of music the next morning, as he is a former student with whom I have a tender relationship. He did not complain about the service being foreshortened, even though much hard work over the months was coming to fruition in that one service. No prima donna rant escaped his lips. He expressed pride in how well the varied musicians had performed and then said simply, “I cannot fret about what I have no control over.” I was impressed with his measured response to the unexpected.


Ana Tzarev Gallery, New York


The Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent makes room for Joseph in the drama preceding the birth of Jesus. He has a dream in which an angel of the Lord reassures him. He had just learned of Mary’s pregnancy, and he planned a quiet break-up so as not to humiliate her publicly. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”


Joseph’s Dream, 1262 Hromklay in Gaziantep, Turkey – Bequest of Mrs. Henry Walters [formerly part of the Walters Collection], 1935

Joseph had no control over God’s mysterious plan—only how he would respond to the unexpected. He was a righteous man, indeed, and was essential to the well being of the mother and child. Though we know little about him after Jesus’ childhood, we remember him for expressing stalwart fidelity to divine guidance.

The unexpected thrusts its way into all of our lives. We have little control over illnesses, timing of deaths, job security, and the current political landscape. We do have control over how we will respond, and we can actively shape the future nevertheless, with the divine assistance.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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