Discernment in the Spirit of Advent – Wonder
As the season of Advent progresses, it draws us not only into silence, but into a spirit of wonder.
There is a certain natural wonder we encounter, even among those who approach Christmas in a more secularized manner. Think of the amazement and delight so evident in children as they admire the trappings of the season – nativity scenes, candles, the tantalizing possibility of a snow day, the brightness of flowers blooming in the dead of winter. Or consider the awe sparked by the many heartwarming tales of generosity which circulate, as people seek to spread the love and light of the Babe of Bethlehem into the darkness around them.
In the whirlwind of activity as Christmas draws near, it can be a great help to us to pray for fresh, childlike eyes to see these little gifts around us, and seeing them, to give thanks to the One who gave them. The movement from wonder to gratitude stretches our hearts and makes them more open to the gifts God wishes to pour upon us, gifts both temporal and spiritual .
Beyond this “natural” wonder, Advent also invites us to wonder at the supernatural. In the scriptures proper to this liturgical season, there is a continual sense of astonishment at the bold promises God makes to His people. “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him,” as the prophet Isaiah puts it (Is 64:3).
Promises that a virgin will conceive and bear a son, that God Himself will come to save His people, that He will gather us as a shepherd gathers his flocks, from the four corners of the earth – these promises must have seemed almost incredible when they were spoken through the prophet, and even more impossible as Israel suffered under a succession of foreign powers. Yet these promises were passed down through the generations and hope remained alive until the fullness of time arrived. Then, in a manner surpassing all Israel’s imaginings, God Himself did come to fulfill His promises, in the person of the Incarnate Word.
But how does this wonderful history of promise and fulfillment apply to our lives today?
Each one of us hears promises from God. To each of our hearts, He has promised that He has created us with a purpose, that He wants us to be His co-workers in a particular way for the spreading of His Kingdom. Perhaps you have heard that promise in a moment of quiet prayer, in a time of life-changing conversion, or through the lips of a faithful friend. Whenever you heard it, you began to cherish that word, to seek and to follow that path God desires for your life.
Still, at times in the process of finding His path for us, as Israel experienced in waiting for the Messiah, the promises can seem too wonderful, unbelievable. Discernment seems difficult. God seems silent. You aren’t sure where to go next.
Then what? How can you keep the brightness of wonder alive and trust in His promises? The season of Advent suggests an answer: recall the works of the Lord, recall that He is faithful.
The memory of God’s actions on behalf of His people – the Exodus, the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom, the return from exile – under-girded their confidence that even the most extravagant promises would come to fruition. We too can recall these works of salvation history, can remember His faithfulness to His people. And we can spend some time in prayer remembering the movements of grace in our own lives. In these final days approaching Christmas, try setting aside some time to prayerfully revisit some of the ways God has been at work in your life. Ask Him to remind you of the gifts He has been giving – you may be surprised at the moments and graces which come to mind! Let the memory of His care and fidelity reignite your wonder as you wait for the next steps to be revealed.
As we hear again and again the Advent liturgy, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (1 Thes 5:24). Today, let’s look to Him with confidence, for what father is as wonderful in his fidelity as our God and Father?