The best Advent virtue to practice

You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, but you have revealed them to the childlike. Lk 10:21-24

When was the last time you truly felt ‘wonder’? By definition wonder is a habit of amazement, awe, reverence and curiosity. Sometimes wonder comes naturally, as when you see a glorious sunrise or a shooting star. It’s not quite as easy to experience wonder in the simple, ordinary things (folding laundry, raking leaves…) 

Unlike the virtues that we gradually ‘grow into’ (i.e. humility, prudence, temperance…), wonder seems to be the virtue that we sadly ‘grow out of’. Advent is a great season to rekindle the forgotten virtue of wonder.

A photograph accompanies this reflection that is one of my family favorites, and one that is filled with wonder.  It was taken shortly after the birth of my daughter. She was premature and spent weeks in the hospital. After several days of confusion and disruption in their lives, the older brothers finally got to see their little sister. The photo captures their first encounter.  If you’ve forgotten what wonder looks like, take a look again at the picture.

Leading up to this day, the boys saw their parents going to and from the hospital. They didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t until they got to hospital that they experienced first hand the seriousness of the situation, yet at the same time were filled with delight at witnessing this little miracle of life. In their gaze, there might even be a hint of awe and reverence as their DNA awakened their hearts to the heightened responsibilities that may come from now carrying the title, “big brother”.

This might be the same sense of wonder the beleaguered shepherds felt upon reaching the manger where Jesus was born.  Gazing upon the infant, their hearts were filled with wonder and delight as they realized immediately that their status in life was going to change for ever.  This might also reflect the same wonder that the Magi felt upon reaching their destination and offering gifts to the newborn baby – a king that will turn the world’s values upside down.   

Advent is a time to rediscover our sense of childlike wonder.  I’ve often said that if I were to be stuck at a particular age, I would choose the age of six.  Watch children in kindergarten.  Almost everything is new, fun, and exciting. Every situation sparks a new sense of wonder.  Six is also generally considered before ‘the age of reason’ where a person begins to understand the difference between right and wrong.  So in addition to most everything being new and wonderful, there is no guilt!  Even when a kinder is scolded, it’s often a new experience from which to learn and grow, but not accompanied with the usual baggage filled with emotional pain and regret.

Jesus came as an infant to confound the sensibilities of the learned and knowledgeable (i.e. you and me), and reveal them to the childlike.  The gateway to enter these mysteries is wonder. Wonder is actually not just reserved for momentous occasions, but is a Christian virtue to be nourished and practiced in all of life’s situations. 

Spend a little time each day during Advent practicing the virtue of wonder – in both the ordinary and the marvelous moments. Remember Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’. What is more wonderful than that!