An Invitation to Wonder: The Christ Child Shines Light, Offers Hope

COMMENTARY: Every Christmas light that twinkles in the darkness is a message to us from our God.

(photo: Shutterstock)

Last week, my son and I sat together on his bedroom floor, while he stared enraptured at … of all things … his humidifier. My busy, constantly-on-the-move toddler continued to sit there, almost motionless, for 10 whole minutes, doing nothing but wondering at the mysteriously magical puffs of cool steam rising up into the air.

I sat there wondering with him. Partly, I wondered where we should put the thing, now that he’s discovered it, so that it’s safely out of reach. But more fundamentally, I wondered at him — at his pure delight in the most ordinary of moments and the most ordinary of things.

Right now, the whole world is a wonder to him. Everything in creation, from a squirrel scampering across the lawn to the chime on my parents’ mantle clock, is cause for contemplation. He stops for it all, acknowledges it all, and wants me to acknowledge it, too. He claps. He points. He cries out with glee. And with a “Mama! Mama!” demands that I share in his joy.

This pausing to wonder at steam and garbage trucks, birds on the wire and the schoolhouse lights hanging over our kitchen island has taken some adjusting on my part. Once, not too many years ago, it wouldn’t have been that difficult; I’m naturally inclined to delight in the ordinary. But these days, life doesn’t leave me a lot of time for delighting. There are too many other things competing for my attention: deadlines and meetings, laundry and cleaning, meal planning and grocery shopping, plus one very busy toddler who races from one death-defying stunt to the next.

In the midst of our current crazy, my inclination is to ignore the small stuff and focus on whatever is most urgent. “If it’s not urgent, I don’t have time for it,” I’ve said repeatedly over the past year.

But the little child toddling about my house is having none of that attitude. His job right now — his great work in life — seems to be twofold: wondering at the world and getting Mama to wonder at it, too. He will not be dissuaded from amazement at gravity and rainbows and diaper bags full of stuff, and he will not be dissuaded from making Mama share in that amazement.

The boy does not brook disagreement. And for that, I’m grateful. Because the world is a wonder. Every atom in it is worthy of amazement. Squirrels and bells and wind really are occasions for delight and awe. They are all gifts from a good and loving God. Like everything in the universe, they wouldn’t exist without him. He holds them in being. And he does that for a purpose. Through all these things, he somehow blesses us, teaches us, helps us and saves us. My baby instinctively sees the miracle of it all. And he helps me see it, too.

The Christ Child does the same.

Every Advent, we prepare for his coming not by donning sackcloth and ashes, but by decking the halls. We ready our hearts to celebrate his birth not by performing solemn acts of penance, but by baking cookies and shopping for toys. So much that surrounds the coming of Christmastide invites even the busiest among us to pause and wonder at the beauty of the world, a beauty that makes the love of God manifest.

Glowing lights and boughs of evergreen, songs of joy and gatherings with loved ones, cookies eaten by the fireside, and brightly wrapped packages — all call us to stop racing from one urgent task to the next and simply delight in the life God has given us. They call us to pause and experience, for just a moment, the awe of a child in the world God made.

We don’t have to pause, of course. I could ignore Toby’s urgent cries of “Mama” and his importunate looks when a puppy comes into view. I could continue racing about, tending to the necessary and dismissing all the seeming minutiae that makes him clap his hands with glee. But nothing in creation is really minutiae. It’s all part of God’s glorious handiwork. It’s part of his intricate plan to teach us about himself and call us to himself. He doesn’t want us ignoring the minutiae. He wants us praising him for it. When we fail to do so, it is to our peril. We suffer, not him.

Likewise, we don’t have to rejoice in the sights and smells and sounds of Advent and Christmas. We can stick to our “to-do” lists, complain about the endless demands or commercialization of the season, and say “Bah! Humbug!” to it all.

Sometimes, Bah-humbugging the holidays is actually easier — especially when those sights and sounds seem like they’re for everyone but us. During the years when loneliness and grief overpower us, the lights, cookies and songs can seem ridiculous or painful or both. They can be reminders of what we don’t have or who is not with us. They also can seem so trivial in the light of great suffering.

But the Child whose birth those lights, cookies and songs herald is the only reason we have hope to escape our present suffering. He is the Light that shines in the darkness of the world. He is the one who promises us everlasting peace with no loneliness, no loss, no sickness or sorrow. And all the bells and lights and “Ho, Ho, Hos” are signs of that. They are hints of the endless joy and delight that he promises to all who cling to him.

Every Christmas light that twinkles in the darkness is a message to us from our God that “the night is far gone; the day is near” (Romans 13:12). Whether the people who hung those lights know it or not, they are proclaiming the Gospel. For, when seen from the standpoint of eternity, the trappings of Christmas aren’t really trappings at all. They are harbingers of heaven — reminders of the life that awaits those who sing with the angels on Christmas morn, “Glory to God in the highest. And peace to his people on earth.”

In the days of Advent that remain and in the days of Christmastide still to come, listen to the call of the Christ Child. Pause with him. Sit with him. Delight with him. Ask him to help you see all the signs of the season not as a painful reminder of what’s past, but as a hopeful foretaste of what’s to come. And through it all, let him lead you to wonder. Let him lead you to him.

Emily Stimpson Chapman writes from Pittsburgh.

Horace Vernet, “The Angel of Death,” 1851

Don’t Wait to Cram for Your ‘Final Exam’

“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022)

Horace Vernet, “The Angel of Death,” 1851

Don’t Wait to Cram for Your ‘Final Exam’

“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022)

Francisco de Zurbarán, “The Family of the Virgin,” ca. 1650

Why Do We Ask Mary to Pray for Us?

“After her Son’s Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.’ In her association with the apostles and several women, ‘we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.’” (CCC 965)