a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
We put up our Christmas tree on Saturday. As empty nesters, it’s our tradition to either have any adult kids who happen to be in the area over to help us or, in their absence, invite a friend or several. This year we invited one of our dearest friends to help. Ava had never picked out or decorated a Christmas tree. As a Muslim growing up in Iran, this was something new. It was a delight to have her join in with this magical tradition.
Within an hour and a half the room was transformed from chaotic and crowded to sparkling brilliance. Shiny ornaments collected through the years reflected the white lights, while Christmas music played softly in the background. We sat back and sighed in wonder as we looked at the tree. The transformation of what had been a plain, partly frozen tree in a lot with hundreds of others was complete and it was a wonder to look at.
Every morning this week I have crept down sleepy-eyed and still in my pajamas and turned on the lights to the tree. The room fills with soft twinkle lights inviting me to stop, inviting me to wonder.
This year has been a year. Soon after the new year ushering in hope and promise we faced the tragic death of my brother in February, closed borders in March, death of an uncle in April, rising Covid cases in May, my brother’s long delayed funeral in July, two unexpected deaths of a cousin and a cousin’s husband in October, death of an aunt in November, and now…. the season of jolly good will? I think not! Like you all, I am exhausted with the year, exhausted with the telling people why I’m exhausted, and I’m sad. Just plain sad.
It’s more than this year though. When I look back at past Decembers, they have included death, hospitalizations, life-changing tragedies, and oh so many tears. The other day I said to my sister-in-law “I have begun to dread December!” Within the bright lights of Christmas is the realization that hard things still happen and the world is still broken.
But then I stop and I take a breath. I look at my tree in the early morning as the light is just appearing over the Atlantic Ocean a couple of miles away. I feel an invitation to step away from the broken and enter the timeless wonder of God become man.
I am invited into the wonder of the Advent Season, the wonder of the Incarnation, the wonder of the mysteries of my Christian faith.
Long ago on a rooftop in Pakistan, my mom had an invitation to wonder. She felt alone and forgotten, lost in a world miles from family and friends. That night she experienced wonder through unexpected visitors. In the midst of the Sindh desert in Pakistan our friends arrived from hours away and sang carols at our door, their presence an offering of love. It was the wonder of friendship that went the extra mile, offering hope and joy. Every year I stop and remember this story, for it too is an invitation to wonder.
If we stop for a moment, we realize that all around us are invitations to wonder. A sunrise, a sunset, a babies first cry in the world, a son’s engagement, a memory of love, a beautiful meal, laughter, an ever beckoning invitation into words and the Word.
Advent is not an invitation into a western Christmas magic that quickly disappears. It’s our invitation to listen, to watch, to wait, and to wonder.
We have an invitation to wonder at the mystery of the Word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us, an invitation to see his glory. Will you stop with me for a moment in the midst of what has been a deeply discouraging year of untold sadness and loss, of transition and disappointment, of people and dreams dying? Will you accept our invitation to wonder from a God who loves us infinitely more than we can grasp?
Accept this invitation to stop and listen to this beautiful rendition of a timeless hymn:
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.