From the first Sunday of Advent, all the way to Epiphany, the Christmas season invites us to experience the wonder and mystery of a God who sent his only Son to save his beloved creation. in the form of a most vulnerable baby born into poverty by a young woman mystified at the entire experience. Who could have imagined that this first Christmas gift — a baby born into poverty to a mystified woman — would open the gates of heaven and make a way home for all people. As the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,1 Corinthians 2:9
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
The prophets had been listening for centuries, faithfully relaying the message, especially Isaiah. From “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” … all the way to “Comfort ye my people”… “for unto us a Son is given…” Isaiah envisioned a future where Israel would be liberated from oppression: “And the government will be upon His shoulder.” And Isaiah, whether consciously or not, foretold of the greater liberation, the liberation of the soul:
And His name will be calledIsaiah 9:6
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
…those who wait on the LordIsaiah 40:31
Shall renew their strength;
shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
O Holy Night…
Can you imagine the anticipation — the Israelites had been exiled, wandering in the desert for generations. They’d seen their Temple destroyed and rebuilt. And now, under Roman rule, the promises of the prophets were whispered among those who still believed. It was a time of great mystery, when angels appeared unannounced to shepherds in the dark and magicians showed up out of nowhere bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Art imitates life, as the saying goes. The birth of Christ, and the inconceivable events that would follow, is the stuff of many a modern epic — from Lord of the Rings, to Game of Thrones.
Too Good to (Not) Be True
Today, in our virtual world, when so much of what we seek, from direction to admiration and acceptance, is digitized in a single tap of the finger, would we recognize the humble earthly entrance of God in human form? Like a hero in our favorite series, we suspend our disbelief as we venture into the upside down, as Will and Eleven in Stranger Things. Not everyone acknowledges it, but we are affected by the reality of what is unseen. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
This holiday season, no matter where we are on the faith spectrum, what state we are in physically or emotionally, how rich and empty, or poor and powerless we might feel, God is with us. And he has been where we are. This is the great wonder of Christmas. That God became human and dwelt among us and dwells within us today. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” This is the promise we have as children of God.
On the Lookout
When I was a little girl, I loved Christmas Eve the most. I would wait until the house was dark, then I’d go into my bedroom and light candles on the windowsill. Kneeling by the light, I would read in whispers the Christmas story according to Luke, according to Matthew. I would play Celtic Christmas music, (yes I was that strange child), and I would sing carols in the quiet midnight hours. This was my way of summoning mystery, on a constant search for wonder and awe that came more easily then than it does now, but I’m still on that journey. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” For me, today, it’s a matter of finding the quiet hour, the space in time to slip through into God’s time.
This Christmas, with the world in upheaval and some of us spending more time alone within the same four walls — or perhaps not so much alone as with the same people day in and day out — we have been given an opportunity. We are invited to look out for mystery, to open our hearts to see more clearly, to expect the coming of Christ, and the great unfathomable wonder of the Creator of the Universe being involved in our very lives here today, at this very moment.
Clearing a path for wonder is as simple as quieting your mind to make way for the Holy Spirit to move. Go out for a walk in the woods, sit for a while in the sun, or light a candle to usher in the moment. These simple rituals help calm the busy mind, allowing the heart to speak and more importantly, to listen.
A recipe for Christmas wonder
Set the soundtrack. Try this On the Lookout: Christmas Eve playlist.
Grab a notebook. I keep a special journal to be ready when inspiration flows.
Light a candle, like one of these soy candles made with love by the women of Thistle Farms.
Begin with a blessing. I like the gentle words of John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us,
Read aloud your favorite scripture, even if only in a whisper — on Christmas try Isaiah 9, Isaiah 40, Luke 1-2, Matthew 1-2. Sit quietly in gratitude for the presence of the Holy Spirit within you.
Write, sing, dance, move, whatever your heart feels like doing. You are alive and made in the image of God.