I wrote and shared this devotion with a local MOMSNext group this December, pondering a bit on their theme of “wonder.” I thought I’d share it in this space as well. Merry Christmas friends.
by Jan L Richardson
“The season of Advent means there is
something on the horizon the likes of
which we have never seen before…
What is possible is to not see it, to miss it,
to turn just as it brushes past you.
And you begin to grasp what it was you
missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock,
watching God fade in the distance.
So stay, Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait.
There will be time enough for running.
For rushing. For worrying. For pushing.
For now, stay. Wait.
Something is on the horizon.”
Last week we were driving home from church when my daughter started asking me about where Jesus was born. She wants to play the part of the innkeeper in this year’s pageant so she is working to get all the details straightened out.
So we talked a bit about what the Bible tells us (that there was no room in the inn, and when Mary needed to set Jesus down she did so in a feeding trough) and what it doesn’t (exactly where Jesus was born—a cave, a stable, a lower level in a family member’s home, or who attended Mary’s delivery). At one point the conversation shifted to what it means that Jesus was born under such lowly circumstances, rather than in a palace or bustling metropolis.
“You know what my favorite part of the Christmas story is?” I asked my girls. When they shook their heads no I continued on, “the people to whom God chose to send his angels with the grandest birth announcement in the history of birth announcements. The shepherds were the nobodies back then. The worst, the stinkiest, the smelliest, the rudest, the ones who never got invited to a party.” As I asked my girls what jobs we might consider “lower than low” in our culture today, we pondered just who God might deliver his message of a savior’s birth to—garbage collectors, janitors, pig farmers. (But really, maybe it would be immigrants, or “thugs,” or the group of homeless guys who hang out downtown each night.) God wanted us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came not for the high and mighty, the wealthy and the powerful, the knowledgeable and the professional. Jesus came for the everyday average you and me, and those we often leave out entirely—and the shepherds teach us that.
I love that “Wonder” is one of our theme words this year. And, of course, there is nothing like sitting under a summer night sky, filled with the incredible beauty of stars, for us to get a sense of that feeling of wonder.
Wonder is a difficult emotion to describe. Take a moment to think back at your last experience of wonder. How would you describe it?
David James Duncan writes that “Wonder is my second favorite condition to be in after love—and I sometimes wonder whether there’s even a difference: maybe love is just wonder aimed at a beloved. Wonder is like grace, in that it is not a condition we grasp: wonder grasps us.”
To me, wonder and nature go hand in hand. Wonder and music go hand in hand. Wonder and the laughter of a child. Wonder and grace. There is something to a lack of comprehension that brings about this feeling of wonder. We do not experience it when we are in an environment too busy with outside distractions. Wonder takes stopping.
There is something to this season of Christmas that can only be described as wonder. I don’t know about you, but sometime in June or July or August or September when I think forward to the Christmas season I just get this happy feeling in my belly. I think that is the wonder of the season.
This year I am particularly aware of the darkness surrounding us. Literally and figuratively, things in our world (at least to me) seem a bit darker these days. So there is something extra magical about the twinkling lights of my neighbor’s houses, the trees in their window, the fire in the fireplace…the light those bring. We don’t get a sky full of stars very often this time of year in the Northwest, but we are blessed everywhere we turn with moments of starry wonder in the form of twinkling LED.
I wonder about that night when Jesus was born. Was the sky full of the brightness from stars and a full moon? Or was it a bit dreary and cloud-filled, with the shepherds huddled around their source of warmth and light: the campfire? Scripture tells us it was night, and some were awake to keep watch while others were likely sleeping.
And suddenly an angel appeared and “God’s glory blazed around them.” They were terrified. But the angel made an announcement, and then was joined with a massive angelic choir singing God’s praises. I just don’t think we can quite comprehend what it must have been to witness such a scene.
When the angels returned to heaven we’re told the shepherds had a little conversation where they decided to go and check things out in Bethlehem. So they ran to find Mary and Joseph and the baby.
Can you imagine Mary? She is exhausted from giving birth. She is away from home, from her family, from her sisters and mother who would have helped her through her labor pains and celebrated with her the arrival of a healthy baby boy. And here suddenly a loud, rowdy, smelly, group of ruffian shepherds comes to greet her son. With what stories do they tell? Stories of angel armies singing of God’s glory, stories of a birth announcement and a hurry to see if things were true. What kind of welcome wagon was this?
When the shepherds depart, sharing the good news with everyone they meet, Mary ponders all that she has seen and heard. Her son is special. And she is not alone. These may not have been the visitors she wanted, but there they were. God may have a funny way of proving it, but Mary knows she is seen. She knows the song of Hagar, of El Roi—the God who sees me. She stores this knowledge in her heart. She ponders the impossibility of it all: the trip to Bethlehem, the pain of labor and delivery, the fear of being away from home, the cry of a healthy infant, the amazement at God’s provision that goes above and beyond. Mary has been seen by the God of the universe, visited by angels and by shepherds. She treasured up these things and pondered them in the deep places of her heart.
I think Mary knew a thing or two about wonder.