From the Desk of… “Surprise! It’s Christmas”

by William Harfoot, Colonel


Have you ever participated in a surprise party? Did you hide in the dark or behind a piece of furniture and at just the right moment turn on the lights or jump out shouting, “surprise”? It’s fun—in a positive and thoughtful way—to surprise someone we love.

Surprises are a part of this season, because in spite of the advance warnings and anticipation of a future messiah, the experience of Christ’s arrival was a great surprise. Elizabeth and Zechariah were surprised by a long desired pregnancy. Mary and Joseph were surprised by an early and unplanned pregnancy. The shepherds, the magi, Herod—along with just about everyone else—were surprised at the birth of Jesus.

If people were not surprised by his birth they were very surprised by his life. Several times the Gospel of Mark tells us that people were amazed—surprised—by what he said. Perhaps people who actually met Jesus were even more surprised by what he did. He did astonishing—surprising—things.

The fact is, in his birth, in his life, by word and deed Jesus surprised everyone. No wonder he surprised us by his death, and after death by his resurrection. And should we be surprised that he continues by his Spirit to engage us today? We shouldn’t be, but we are. Life is so much about being surprised, and in particular being surprised by God.

In my work and ministry I participate in many meetings to plan both strategies and events to influence the great work of the Army in this territory. Yet for all our planning we are continually surprised by the Spirit of Jesus working through unexpected events and people.

I’m often surprised by the accomplishments of officers and soldiers. I am often amazed by the way soldiers and officers engage people and meet needs like Jesus did when he lived on this earth. They are creative and effective in meeting needs and communicating faith, hope and love. Soldiers and officers bless me deeply with the demonstration of practical and powerful grace. John Wesley said, “One of the greatest evidences of God’s love to those that love him is, to send them afflictions, with grace to bear them.” I shouldn’t be surprised, but I confess I am.

Life continues to be surprising. Today will be surprising. I think God made it this way. God sets the universe in motion and the future is unknown; it is full of surprises. A wise leader paraphrased Proverbs 16.1 this way, “We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God’s hands.”

Some surprises will make us happy, like a surprise birthday party. Other events will surprise us with a challenge or even sadness. However, we will also be surprised by the grace that God provides and the joy that comes in due time.

I do wish you a surprisingly merry Christmas. May the Lord surprise you again with his presence and with power to live like Jesus.

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