Stories of the Unexpected

Albert Bogle November 25, 2021 0 0
Stories of the Unexpected

Advent on Sanctuary First

This Month on Sanctuary First we will be releasing a series of short stories ‘Stories of the Unexpected’ which will revolve around our December theme ‘The Unexpected Visitor’. Three writers and members of the Sanctuary First community have each contributed a short story that they have written around the months theme, these will be released each Sunday over the next three weeks in podcast and blog form, each story will be followed with its own ‘Writers Room Book Club’ on the following Saturday where we will meet to talk about the story, this will all conclude on the fourth week with a final story in the form of a Christmas film!

This is an extended version of a piece that Albert wrote for the Church of Scotland’s in house magazine Ascend.

Each year I find myself reflecting upon a different aspect of the Christmas story. There is something emotional and honest about this exercise. It helps me to engage with the wonder and mystery of the incarnation at a personal level, before I find myself caught up in the busyness of the life of a minister at Christmas. Unless I make space for my own personal encounter with the story once more, I simply find myself going through the motions disengaged from the emotion and intimacy of what it truly means to believe in Emmanuel — God with us.

This year for instance I have started to think about the mystery and wonder of angels as messengers of God. The story is drawing me back into my childhood, into considering afresh the idea that there is much more to our lives than meets the eye. Memories of childhood can shape meaning for the present.

My memory invites me to go beyond the Christmas colours of green and red and gold, of Christmas lights and tinsel, and the smell of pines and a coal fire burning in my grandmother’s kitchen — to think beyond the physical things that represent Christmas to that which is spiritual and otherworldly.

Recently I found myself thinking on another set of colours.  An old armchair that sat in my grandmother’s kitchen. She had covered it with cotton material that had a light blue background with a pink roses print. This was the chair she knelt down beside every night and said her prayers.  And this was the chair from which she looked up and saw an angel. She told me at that moment she knew without a doubt God was with her. 

I think there are more angel stories shared among trusted friends than many of us might care to believe. While sharing with a friend that I was reflecting upon angels this Christmas he proceed to tell me how he believes he met an angel while locking up the church very early one Christmas morning after the Watchnight service. He believes the angel came to say, “God is with You.” So, what was the angel like? I asked, “How was she/he dressed?” Oh he said, “For summer, but otherworldly”.

As I reflect on these stories and possibilities, I find myself looking forward to the material that will be emerging from Sanctuary First this Christmas. This time of personal reflection has helped create the theme for December ‘The Unexpected Visitor’. It’s an idea that leaves a lot to our imagination as we encourage minds to be stirred thinking about the Christmas stories that have shaped our lives — bringing about a change in our relationships and also in the world.

One thing is for certain, we miss the point of the real Christmas if we get caught up in the make believe of Christmas commercialism. Equally we miss the truth, wonder and mystery of Christmas if we try to reduce the stories of angels and shepherds and wisemen to the fanciful imaginings of well-intentioned myth creators, seeking to create a divine intention; people trying to read more into the teaching and reporting of the first Christians.

Our intention this year is to seek to engage the mystery and wonder of the story that God became one of us. To encourage one another to look for the truth that lies in stories, encouraging us to discover the presence of God with us in our everyday lives. The presence of God that might just lead us beyond the ordinary to encounter the extraordinary as we explore what it means to be reconciled to God.

We are delighted during the next three weeks to be releasing three short stories all quite different but each in their own way causing us to ponder the unexpected. Alec Shuttleworth, Linda Pollock and Katy Emslie-Smith have created for us three stories under the title: ‘Stories of the Unexpected.’ There will be a special edition of the Book Club to allow us to engage with the stories and to discuss the plots with the authors. Details of the time and dates will be published at the end of this blog.

And to further build on the theme of the Unexpected Visitor, Christine Colliar, one of the Sanctuary first community, has written the script for this year’s Christmas movie which will be filmed and directed by Jack Steel. Once again this will allow us to engage with topics that touch on homelessness and vulnerability. The theme will finally be brought together by the release of our Christmas single written by myself and Iain Jamieson recalling a mysterious midnight visitor that my friend encountered on a Christmas morn.  In all, we hope that you will look out for these additional creative contributions which we hope will add value to our daily Advent prayers and reflections.

Regardless how the Christmas celebrations and planning goes for us all, Christmas is continually pointing each of us to that which is outwith our imagining but within our grasp, Emmanuel — God with us. In living we need never be alone, unexpected visitors turn up regularly, and as for angels, sometimes just sometimes, God gives us eyes to see them.

Albert Bogle

Stories of the Unexpected:

Sunday 28th of November

Story No.1: Alec Shuttleworth - Upon a midnight clear

Following book club: Saturday 4th of December


Sunday 5th of November

Story No.2: Linda Pollock - Anna the Prophetess

Following book club: Saturday 11th of December


Sunday 12th of November

Story No.3: Katy Emslie-Smith - Working with the grain

Following book club: Saturday 18th of December


Sunday 25th of December

Story No.4: Christine Colliar - The Unexpected Gift