The first five words of Genesis 18 pull you to the edge of your seat: The Lord appeared to Abraham. You halfway expect the mountains to quake, the seas to boil or lightening to crease the sky. When God makes unscheduled visits, the special effects can be spectacular. The rest of the verse, though, is considerably less dramatic: Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.

Maybe he waves away a buzzing fly or wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. Now, it’s the oppressive heat that takes your breath away, not the histrionics of a divine encounter.

Then, standing nearby, Abraham sees three men. You get the sense that a few minutes ago, they were not there, and then they are. Like they materialized out of the simmering air. Abraham hurries to greet them and, in keeping with the custom of his day, invites them to sit down to a meal. Sarah, his wife, bakes bread and a servant slaughters a calf and grills up some steak.

As they eat, one of the men asks Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?”

Abraham answers, “There, in the tent,” but I bet he has a question of his own: How do you know my wife’s name?

The men know because these are not ordinary visitors. Remember how this story began? The Lord appeared to Abraham. One of them is the Lord himself. Apparently, God can show up and you may not even notice. Whether Abraham is perplexed at their insight or not, the Lord says, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Unless it runs afoul of Paul’s warning to the Thessalonians (1 Thes. 4:1 – 12) to mind your own business, eavesdropping is more a social sin than a spiritual one. And that guilty pleasure is not new. Sarah has her ear to the canvas wall of the tent listening to what the strangers say. When they announce her impending pregnancy, she laughs to herself. Then she thinks to herself, “I’m worn out. He’s old. We’re not having a baby.

The “to herself” is important because of what the Lord says next: “Why did Sarah laugh?”

Sarah sticks her head out of the tent and says, “I did not laugh.”

The Lord says, “Uh . . . yeah. You did.”

A few chapters (and one year later), this: Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.

Isaac’s name means, He Laughs.

That’s a great story, but I would not blame you if you wondered what in the world it has to do with Christmas. Well – let’s go over the narrative movement again.

An old married couple, well past child-bearing years, is visited by a divine messenger and told that they are going to have a baby.

It will be their first and when they do the gender reveal, the color will be blue.

The news is received with an understandable measure of doubt.

But less than a year later, sure enough, a baby boy is welcomed into the world.

That’s not just the plot summary for Genesis 18. It’s also how the story in Luke 1 unfolds. There, the old couple is named Zechariah and Elizabeth.

They are well past child-bearing years.

A divine messenger tells them they are going to have a baby, their first.

And that they should paint the nursery blue.

Zechariah, understandably, has his doubts.

But less than a year later, sure enough, a baby boy is welcomed into the world.

Zechariah and Elizabeth have more in common with Abraham and Sarah than a late-life pregnancy. Israel’s first priest, Aaron, was a descendant of Abraham and Sarah. Zechariah and Elizabeth were descendants of Aaron, Israel’s first priest.

Sarah’s response to the promise of a child was, “I am worn out and my master is old.” Zechariah’s more delicate response was, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The son of Abraham and Sarah was named He Laughs. The son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the angel promised, would be a joy and delight to his parents. And both boys were a critical part of God’s plan to bless a people. Isaac was the first installment of the promise. John was the herald of the promise fulfilled. Isaac’s mission was to father a people from whom Jesus would come. John’s mission was to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.

So in the very first book of the Bible we find an unexpected link to the story of Jesus’ birth. God has been moving toward us for a very long time, in surprising ways, through the most unlikely people. Through two old couples and the promise of far-fetched pregnancies. Through a virgin surprisingly found to be with child. And then, God came near first not as a warrior, prophet or preacher, but as a barn-born baby.

All of which kind of makes you wonder – how will God show up in my life this Christmas season? Probably not in any ordinary way we’d anticipate. It’s possible he will put words in the preacher’s mouth that will go straight to your heart. Or he may stir a song in the worship leader’s soul that touches a chord in yours. More likely, though, God will sneak up on you in the guise of a stranger needing a place to rest – or an old man needing something to believe in again – or a young, single mother looking for some hope.

However he chooses to invade our lives, it will likely be unconventional. It will probably be unsettling. And it will most definitely be unexpected.

But keep your eyes open anyway. And your heart. You would hate to miss it.

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Why Our Members Chose Twickenham

God is doing great things here and we want to be included. So many opportunities to be of service or just get together to get to know and love the people who are already members. We can’t wait to grow roots here.

We came for the children’s program, but we are already in love with the adult classes and the people.

It’s a church family we’d like to invite our neighbors to attend. Its members help and share with those in need.