Surprise!

By

Todd and Christie Bragg gave me a gift, and I’m going to attempt to regift some of what they gave me with these words. Todd turned 40 the other day. It was Sunday, December 18—the day of the Behold the Lamb of God concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

Christie put together a huge after party for Todd in the upper balcony of the Ryman. She invited what looked like at least a hundred friends. But it wasn’t just a party. It was a surprise party.

Todd is a drummer in Nashville and he’s worked with countless musicians in this town over the years, so he knows a lot of people. But Todd is not just a drummer with a lot of connections. He’s a very kind and generous friend who, when you’re talking with him, treats you like you’re the only person in the world. So this party wasn’t just a room full of business associates. I imagine most all of them would call Todd not just a friend, but a dear friend.

Christie is cut from the same cloth as her husband in this respect. These two serve others in the most beautiful way.

After the concert I found myself up in that balcony with all those people, but because I hadn’t brought my pass to actually get in to the party, the Ryman security guards made me stand over by the stairs, apart from the gathering of friends.

At first, I was irked by the security staff’s unwillingness to let me stand with the rest of the folks only 30 feet away, but when I began to assess my position, I realized I had a unique vantage point for what was about to happen—I stood in a place where I could watch Todd come up the stairs, see this throng of people for the first time and then react.

It was beautiful. There’s almost no way to make a crowd that big stay quiet, but when they got the signal that Todd and Christie were on their way up, they went silent as a stone. They ascended the stairs, and then it happened—everyone yelled “Surprise!”

People were laughing, waving, and eventually someone yelled, “Speech!”

Todd tried, God bless him. He tried. But Todd had lost the ability to speak.

Then Christie revealed a grace and strength that took this from being a surprise birthday party to a holy moment. She addressed her husband of 20 years in front of us. She spoke words of life and grace and affirmation and affection for him. She spoke these words to Todd, and also to the rest of us looking on. Strong.

Todd looked at his wife and said, “You got me. Wow. Look at all these faces of the people I love. Wow!”

I figure that given the best scenarios and the most closely kept secrets, most individuals will only step into one, maybe two properly executed surprise parties in their lives. If that. Either we’ll never have one thrown for us, or we’ll sniff it out and then just play along.

I spent that morning preaching about how the angels visited the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, and how it started with one angel appearing to the shepherds, but then as soon as he had told them that in the city of David a Savior—Christ, the Lord—had been born unto them, suddenly a great multitude of the heavenly host appeared praising God, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those on whom his favor rests!”

It was as if one angel had been chosen to bring the news of Jesus’ coming to the shepherds, so the others said, “Alright, but as soon as you spit it out, we’re bursting in—because this is the greatest news ever!” It was as though they were waiting behind the celestial corner of heaven’s door, and as soon as they were able they rushed in to celebrate what God was doing.

Seeing Todd take in that celebration made me think of those shepherds and what it must have been like to have the host of heaven throw a surprise party for them. “This gift is for you!” the angels told them.

There’s so much I think I know about what God is doing in this world. So much I think I have figured out. Todd’s party awakened in me a longing to be surprised by the joy of what I never suspected, much less understood.

Advent invites us to consider our lives in light of God’s salvation. And one thing it awakened in me, thanks to Todd and Christie, is that in this life I am being led by the hand of God through the concert hall that is this world, and one day he will lead me to the stairs, and together we will ascend. God only knows what I will find there, but I’m certain my reaction will be something like, “You got me. Wow. Look at all these faces of the people I love. Wow!”

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Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


21 Comments

  1. Lindsey

    As if the Christmas Story could be any more beautiful, you just added more color to it for me. Thank you!

  2. April

    This is just beautiful. As I was reading, I was thinking about how shepherding, and even drumming, can probably both seem a little mundane at times. And yet, in the midst of the ordinary, everyday moments of doing what God has created us to do… here He comes! And in an instant, there’s holiness all around…

    Thanks for speaking to my heart today.

  3. Margret

    Love, love, love this story! And how exciting for me that I’m not the only one envisioning the angelic choir bursting on the scene because they’re unable to hold it in any longer. Eighteen years ago, I wrote something similar at Christmas time and am honored to share it here.

    The Bible tells us in Luke chapter two that an angel appeared to the shepherds while they were out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And that, suddenly, there was a heavenly choir, singing praises to God.

    One of the phrases that has taken up residence in my mind and heart these recent weeks is “surprised by joy.” In the context of Christmas and the angels, this is what I see:

    Shortly before the heavenly announcement is made to the shepherds, the angels are milling around excitedly, hard pressed to merely whisper because they have a secret to tell the world. The one who gets to proclaim the official message says to the rest of them, “Okay, now remember. Wait for my signal before you start singing!”

    “All right, all right, we promise…. Just get out there, will ya?”

    However, while the shepherds are listening to this proclamation, the choir finds they just can’t stand it any longer. They burst on the scene, singing their hearts out (maybe also with a “Joyful! Joyful! We adore Thee!”) for the sheer joy of the good news, news that their Lord and God has pulled one over on the devil and has been born into the world of humans as a helpless little baby who will still conquer his evil plans.

    The shepherds were “surprised by joy,” just as the spokesman angel was, for the others had started singing their praises to God before he gave them the prearranged signal.

    May the blessings of the season — all the love and peace and grace, all the good things that can happen when one is surrounded by love and loved ones — surprise you with joy. And may the utter delight of serving a God of laughter give you cause to celebrate forever more.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours
    Margret

  4. Cory

    I learned Todd’s name on Sunday night, but I have experienced his talent on a few occasions.
    One in particular stands out: Sandra McCracken’s CD release party (for “In Feast or Fallow”) last year. That was a wonderful night of music, but his performance on “Can’t Help Myself” lifted me to a high, from which I have yet to fully descend.
    It’s fun to learn that he’s such a beautiful child of God as well.

    Thanks, Russ.

  5. Joy C

    Yay! Very nice.

    And that same evening, a group here in Maine was performing BTLoG. We thought of you at the Ryman.

    God bless you. Thank you for all the beauty.

  6. Brad

    Thanks for sharing Russ. I had the privilege of speaking with Todd several times when we were hosting an AP concert here on the west coast and he and Christy were handling the booking. Like you mentioned, he made me feel like I’d known him forever and we were friends from way back. Being thrilled at the connection I mentioned it to AP (and Ben and Goodgame) when they were out, thinking I had made some special connection. Then they let me know that EVERYONE feels that way with Todd. Amazing guy, beautiful story. I envy you your circle of friends, and I too long to be surprised by joy, taken by a glory and a story I could never create, write or anticipate.

  7. Peter B

    Thank you, Russ. You surprised me not once, but twice in the course of this story. “So much I think I have figured out”, indeed.

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