A number of years ago, when my congregational leaders put out a call for a summer Sunday school teacher, I ignored the call as long as I could. Who wants to spend summer on the weekly preparation merry-go-round? Not to mention having to find a sub in order to take a weekend off.
But, eventually, I gave in, and that’s how I met Renee and her sister, Brittany. Sunday school led to movies, to Beauty and the Beast (live theatre!), and to my becoming Renee’s confirmation mentor.
Inevitably, it also led to our last church service together on the Sunday before Advent as the family prepared to relocate several hours away from me.
I know that around 14% of the U.S. population moves annually. I’ve more than once been responsible for disrupting the lives of others in this way. “Still,” I muttered, wiping away the tears so I could see to drive, “this wasn’t what I had planned.”
As I continued to drive and to reach for the tissues, it struck me that almost everyone in the stories we were about to hear for the next several weeks had been through the same kind of shake-up that I was going through.
Although Zachariah and Elizabeth had longed for children, at their age they had adjusted to their childless lives, so much so that Zachariah did not believe the angel Gabriel who told him that they would finally become parents. And what a child they received! Certainly, in their wildest imaginings, they had never planned to become the parents of John, the last of the prophets, who would live in the desert, eat locusts and wild honey, and emerge calling people to repentance.
Mary and Joseph, on the other hand, had a wedding planned. Their families were saving the money to host a week-long celebration for extended family and friends. Instead, Mary and Joseph moved the wedding forward, to the accompaniment of raised eyebrows and people counting on their fingers.
Had the original plan been adhered to, Mary would not have had to go to Bethlehem and give birth in a barn among strangers. This was not part of their plan! Neither was a trip to Egypt with a young baby. Fortunately, someone with carpentry skills can get work anywhere. And they did have the money from the magi to help fund the trip.
Even the magi, after following the star faithfully, did not find, in the end, what they expected to find. The child whom they sought in a Jerusalem palace was instead housed among the ordinary of the earth. Yet they recognized him, the King of Kings. They worshiped him and gave him their treasures. Then they returned home, changed, as we all are, by an encounter with Jesus. We are not told of how this encounter changed the rest of their lives, yet it must have made a difference.
As I was saying good-bye to my friends, I said to their mom, Tammy, “What if I had not taught that Sunday school class? What a big hole that would have left in my life!”
Yes, indeed, but I would never have noticed the loss. I received the gifts of the relationships because I changed my plans for a calm summer. Now I had to change my plans again because I am not supposed to be living out my plans at all.
Although Gabriel did not show up to point the way, I’m quite sure that the Holy Spirit was at work in all of this, reminding me just whose plans these are.
Come, Holy Spirit, keep me mindful that it is you who open and close the doors in my life. Help me to live at peace among the changes.