My first invitation to wonder about Jesus’ coming came when I was a boy, stealing away to my childhood living room and sitting alone among all the bright trimmings of the season. Without really knowing it was happening, the mystery of the season seeped into my soul. “I wonder as I wander,” like the Christmas carol says.
My mother absolutely loved Christmas. Just before Thanksgiving, she would make a huge batch of eggnog from scratch using an old family recipe from Germany. Right after Thanksgiving, she would transform our home into a Christmas wonderland. She started with window decorations like wreaths and white candlestick lights, then the tree, decorated with ornaments passed down from generations, mixed in with some new contributions from me and my siblings. Under the tree she lovingly placed North Pole scenes, complete with village, Santa, eskimo figurines, reindeer, and even a sailing ship. Each evening at dusk, us kids were tasked with going around the house plugging in all of the lights. Mom really loved Christmas.
Sometimes, as I sat in that living room, or went around turning on all those lights, my wonder took a cynical turn: What is all of this display about? Why does my mother make us do all of this work? Surprisingly, a recent trip to Germany with my wife to retrace parts of her childhood and our lineages helped me understand more. We went to Gegenbach and marveled at its “Rathaus” (city hall). Every December, the town transforms the windows of this building into one gigantic Advent calendar. In Oberammergau, the town still honors its vow from 1634 to perform a passion play every 10 years if God spared them from the bubonic plague (and He did). We also saw many country churches with their rather plain exteriors giving way to beautiful interiors with paintings and sculptures in the Rococo style. I thought of my mother’s Christmas decorations and the adornment of these churches, and their commitment to keeping traditions as a way of honoring the Lord, and as a way of inviting him in, each and every day of the year.
My mother’s father, my grandfather, was a second generation immigrant from Germany. When he came to the US, he made sure to bring his favorite customs with him, including the love of public expression of the Good News of the Christmas season, and pass them on to his eventual children. My mother followed with her own variation of this public expression through her Christmas decorations, among other things. Now I see this display of beauty, her decorations, traditions honored for hundreds of years across continents and generations, beckoning to me, then, as a child, and still today. I see it instilling in me a wonder that, even many years ago, led me to silence and wonder … and then worship of the newborn king.
I invite you to consider what leads you to wonder and silence during this Christmas season. Spend time away from the hustle and bustle of your preparations and allow God to lead you to wonder as you wander out under the stars, or maybe the twinkling Christmas lights of your living room, in the silence of the night, and then into the radiance of the Good News, celebrated on earth as it is in heaven, by giving glory to God in the highest.
Wade Ballou is the Community Minister for Coracle in Northern Virginia.