Birth of Wonder

This originally was posted in 2013, yet the words hold true today….

 

This year a little elf doll has made an appearance at our house.  This is the first time we have taken part in the whole Elf on the Shelf phenomena, and we only did because two boys asked. They asked with this sense of wonder in their eyes and this delight. And now, each morning they immediately make a search for where this little stuffed toy has settled.

 

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This will  be part of their memory of Christmas. This will be part of their tradition. Along with bundling up and loading in the truck with hot chocolates and popcorn to drive through the city and look at Christmas lights. Listening to Christmas music. Practicing for the Christmas program at church. Decorating the Christmas tree and the house. All of these combine to create an atmosphere that stands out as special; as infused with wonder and something different.

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I remember the Christmases of my childhood. I remember lighting the luminarias and setting the table for Christmas Eve. I remember the anticipation, looking over the presents under the tree a hundred times. I remember the delight in looking at all the ornaments and sitting and staring at the tree with all the other lights in the house off. I remember the special food, the aromas and the scurrying around the kitchen. I remember the little cinnamon rolls that came out only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The special Christmas china and the red and green goblets. Velvet dresses and Christmas sweaters and shoes that pinched. Acting out the story of the coming of the Babe in the Manger.  Loading up in the car and heading to the Episcopal church downtown for midnight mass and remembering the hush that fell upon that place and the sense of awe. Christmas morning was fun, but all that led up to it is more imprinted on my memory than the gifts and opening presents.

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Everything was set to perfection, and I know there was stress involved, but it was set to perfection with a sense of delight, to lavish and to create a sense of the special.

 

Now…the one who was at the helm of setting the tone and the table  is lost in a place where she does not even understand the meaning of the word Christmas. We have not had a meal like that in years, and Dad has not celebrated Christmas in quite the same way in some time. Of course, Grandparents pare things back, but we have set aside the wonder because she does not understand. Until this past Thanksgiving…my brother and his wife brought Thanksgiving to my folks’ place.

 

Dad set the table and each piece was still able to carry memories. It is amazing how these inanimate objects bear our thoughts and hold our emotions, releasing a flood of memories just by being brought out into view. Now Dad walks through setting the pieces out, and Mom shadows him. She takes some pleasure in seeing the pieces, but she no longer is the one setting the tone. She no longer is the one welcoming the guests with beaming smile. She is no longer orchestrating.

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I realized something. I have many friends for whom the holidays are truly difficult, and I imagine that infusing wonder into those moments can be daunting. Seasons which invoke feelings of dread and fear and depression, or where loneliness is the dominant emotion rather than wonder or joy…these are not seasons marked by memories of anticipation and hope.  Rather, they might be seasons where we want to simply close the door and ignore.

 

I would offer that all the more, though, we need in those moments to affirm the irrationality of Christmas, as Madeleine L’Engle says.

In the midst of the terrors and the depressions and the fears and the angers and the hopelessness….in the midst of those is where we need to hear the wonder.

We can manufacture some sense of wonder with Elves on Shelves and twinkling lights. Enough to capture the attention of the five year old, or even the ten year old. Enough to enliven their imagination so they have memories to look back upon as they age. Enough to spark their wonder. But, they are mere glimpses of wonder, and they do not sustain. Let the children play and enjoy…and spark their wonder.

Then, remind them of the One who tells of the truest wonder of all.

When the true terrors of reality come, we need the irrationality of Christmas. We need the imagination of the God who has the power to overcome, and to birth true wonder.

 

The Birth of Wonder

Madeleine L’Engle

When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.

As I grow older

I get surer

Man’s heart is colder,

His life no purer.

As I grow steadily

More austere

I come less readily

To Christmas each year.

I can’t keep taking 

Without a thought 

Forced merrymaking

And presents bought

In crowds and jostling. 

Alas, there’s naught

In empty wassailing

Where oblivion’s sought.

Oh, I’d be waiting

With quiet fasting

Anticipating

A joy more lasting.

And so I rhyme

With no apology

During this time

Of eschatology:

Judgment and warning

Come like thunder. 

But now is the hour 

When I remember

An infant’s power

On a cold December.

Midnight is dawning

And the birth of wonder.

Stop. Raise Your Head. Hope is here.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28

We need the hope of Advent. I cannot imagine what it was like to be in Bethlehem at the time of birth of the Christ. I cannot imagine the waiting for the Messiah, and hope and the anticipation. I just cannot imagine it because I sit in relative comfort and I only know Christ through the fullness of His life, His death, His resurrection and the reality of His deity. I cannot look at the manger without an awareness of all that it holds.

Still. We get comfortable with the Babe in a manger, and we forget, or at least I do, the magnitude of the hope held there. They didn’t know in that moment…they only had an inkling. Mary knew the most, but even she did not know the magnitude. How could they? That not only was this the Son of God, but that He would make us all new.

This Advent season, just like every one past, and probably most to come, has been filled with a mixture of life. I have varied from stress to contemplation, from delight to sorrow. I have been frustrated and on edge, and I have been at peace and joyful. Sometimes all those things in the span of a day.

Advent, though, my friends…it is staggering.

It is hope.

The reality of God made flesh, God dwelling among His people, God redeeming…this reality should raise our eyes.

Look up and raise your heads.

Right now. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Just plain tired and sad?

Look up. Raise your head.

Right now. Depressed? Filled with sorrow and awareness of our brokenness?

Look up. Raise your head.

Stop. Listen again to the reality of God coming to His people. Hear it again, and let it soak into your bones. Raise your head and be filled with wonder. And hope.

Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28 RsV). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – God Is In the Manger

Stuck in the Upper Room

The last couple weeks have been strange. I mentioned the other day that I have felt more emotional…felt this need to weep coming on at moments. I’ve been more down than normal, and it has affected the days. The boys have noticed and have been frustrated because I have been more short with them.

I was called out on something and I had to walk away because they were right and I knew if I started talking with them I would just begin crying.

I don’t do that. I usually am not that emotional. Ever, really.

I realized, though, in the midst of this that there are more times than not that I am negative or that I see the challenges rather than the blessing. There are more times that I am aware of the brokenness and the suffering and the challenges around us than the hope…although I strive to seek the hope and the wonder. Sometimes I don’t verbalize the negative, but it is there with me.

When I was rocking Maddie last night, which tends to be my best time for thinking, I thought that I am stuck in that upper room the time after Jesus was crucified and before His resurrection. That time when they did not understand, when they wondered what would happen to them and when they wondered if the suffering and the challenges had been worth the cost.

The world is still broken and although we have the hope of and the knowledge of the Resurrection…I don’t always grasp the reality of the Resurrection. That moment when the hope came into fruition and stood before the disciples and confirmed that the suffering and the cost was worth it.

Sometimes I am stuck in the waiting moment. The austerity of Lent and the discipline of facing toward Jerusalem can be exhausting. The reality of the brokenness and the cost of what it will take to heal that condition. Sometimes I find myself just putting one foot in front of another and staring at the ground…when I should be walking with the awareness of the Resurrection.

I need this rhythm of Lent and Good Friday and Easter each year…the discipline of remembering the cost, the silence of Good Friday and taking in the sacrifice….and the joyous celebration of Easter. The shouts of joy and the music and the celebration and the release from the waiting.

Hope. But not just a vague hope that is unknown…Hope placed in a reality that is difficult to get my head around. I have to learn to watch that door while in the Upper Room…waiting for Him to walk through. Trusting that He will. Remembering all the times that He did what He said. I need to not get stuck in the waiting.

It’s okay sometimes to feel the weight of the brokenness and to long for heaven. I think that is good, actually…Paul understood that well. Things did not become easy after Jesus’ Resurrection, but they changed. The hope is more secure and the cost is seen in light of the victory. I have to live in that balance…not just in the upper room waiting and wondering.