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Good Friday was a SHOCK. I don’t think, 2000+ years later we totally appreciate the disbelief facing the early disciples of Jesus. Although he’d given ample warning that he would die, they, like we, didn’t want to hear what they didn’t want to hear! So, when Jesus was arrested, tried, tortured, beaten, ridiculed, scorned, humiliated, then nailed to the cross until his death, nothing less than utter shock took hold.

“How could this be?” they wondered. “Was it all a lie?” They surely asked. “What will happen to us, since people know we are his followers?”

When I was younger, I struggled mightily with Jesus’ death on the cross. In fact, I struggled with the whole notion that God’s plan for my salvation required His son, His only begotten son to die a painful, humiliating death. More than once I asked, “What kind of God is this who would sacrifice His only son? How morbid can God be? Wasn’t there another way?”

Jesus, in his own agonizing prayer the night before his arrest, surely asked God if it were necessary for him to die. He was not shy in asking God to let him avoid the suffering that awaited him. He was, however, perfectly obedient to the will of his heavenly Father. God’s response to His son’s pleading was steadfast: Jesus must die.

But why?

As believers, we should experience Advent as a time of wonder, surprise, and gratitude-wonder at the great gift that has been given to us through the birth of Jesus, and surprise and gratitude at the blessing that God has poured into our lives by claiming us as God's children.

It's hard to imagine anyone ever being more surprised by a turn of events than Mary, a young girl whose future was changed in an instant with the appearance of a mysterious angelic visitor. It's hard to wrap our minds around the enormity of what was being asked of Mary-and ofJoseph, the man who had promised to marry her. Scripture does not give us much insight into the feelings they had about this surprise announcement, though we know that Joseph's initial plan was to quietly end the engagement. Perhaps they recalled the scriptures that had been prophesied from old and were able to draw some measure of comfort from God's promises. Maybe they were shocked and afraid, needing to process what was happening. Perhaps they struggled and questioned and fought the destiny placed before them.

Advent begins on Sunday,November 27, and we will start an exciting new Advent program, The Wonder of Christmas. This program explores four elements of the Christmas story that teach us about the wonder of God’s great love for us: a star, a name, a manger, a promise. As we look to these wonder-filled aspects of the Christmas story, we will rediscover that the true wonder of Christmas is found in the love of Christ and made real in our hearts when we share that love with others.