Advent liturgical seasons spiritual practice

Advent 4: Awaken to Wonder

Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:39-45, Luke 1:46-55

Let’s face it: the story of Jesus’ birth is bizarre, almost unbelievable. It goes like this: God came to earth in human form, as a baby, born in a barn to a poor couple, following a miraculous conception and pregnancy. When he was born, this baby was visited by angels and shepherds and kings from another land. Later, this child grew up to become an amazing teacher with a large following whose death (and resurrection) would change the entire world. This is a difficult story to get behind. Some of the facts are debatable. The details are fuzzy. But it is still true. It is true because we have seen the evidence of the story in our lives and in the world. We are changed by it. That’s why we believe it, and that is why we are so full of wonder at this story. 

Wonder is a sense of awe or amazement at something. Wonder comes upon us when we are astonished at what we see or experience. There are many stories in scripture that evoke wonder in the characters in the stories, or in us, as readers and participants from outside the story. In the Old Testament, the story of Moses and the burning bush comes to mind, as well as the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. In the New Testament, we think of Jesus’ miracles and of the stories of the early church in the book of Acts. But some of the most astonishing things in the New Testament actually came before Jesus’ birth, during Mary’s pregnancy. 

When Mary – a young girl, pregnant and unmarried – went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was old and miraculously pregnant herself, something wonderful happened. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb, who we know as John the Baptist, leaped for joy at Mary’s arrival (with Jesus in her womb) and Elizabeth proclaimed Jesus as Lord – the first person to do so. The vigorous movement of her child within her communicated to Elizabeth that something amazing was happening. Elizabeth was filled with wonder and proclaimed with a loud voice her astonishment at what God was doing within her and within Mary. In response, she blessed Mary, validating and believing her, when possibly no one else had done so. In this story, we get to see the way that God works in the relationship between these two women. Both are experiencing something wonderful (and probably lonely) as they fulfill God’s prophecies in the most embodied way possible: through pregnancy and birth. Their companionship is God’s gift of grace to them.

God is doing amazing things in the world all the time, but we don’t always notice them. When we are on our way to the store or to work or to the doctor or simply at home, God is always present with us. However, we might miss God’s work and the opportunity to be filled with wonder if we are too focused on where we think we will find God instead of looking for God in everything that we do, everywhere that we are. The practices below are intended to evoke an experience of wonder within you in some way, either through experiencing it, as you become more aware and awake to God’s presence, or through remembering an experience of wonder in your past and re-experiencing it in some way in the present. Choose one of the following: 

  1. Look at something tiny with a magnifying glass or microscope or look at the night sky with a telescope. Look closely and reflect on what you can see with that “magnifier” that you could not see without it. 
  2. Create something (art, writing, music, dance, whatever you feel inspired to create!) that exemplifies the word “wonder” as you have experienced it in your life. 
  3. Follow a young child around, at their pace. Do not hurry them or make suggestions. Let the child lead. Do this for at least 15 minutes, but consider challenging yourself to do it for an hour or more. 
  4. Journal about a time in your life when you were filled with “wonder.” Reflect on what that experience was like. Consider what it meant to you then, and what it means to you now. 

This is an excerpt from a study I created for my church for Advent 2021. During this season, I will post weekly on the theme, “Awaken.” I pray that as we journey through Advent, we will all awaken to what God is doing in and around us. If you missed the introduction/overview, you can find it here.

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