It is Advent. The season of wonder. Hot on the trail of Thanksgiving and Black Friday and just a few hours before Cyber Monday. And so far the only wonder I’ve experienced is what to do with two perfectly good pumpkins that, along with a couple of diminutive bales of hay, some cotton stalks and branches of eucalyptus and about a dozen pine cones, made a lovely autumnal tableau for the front porch at Sandhill for the last two months.
It is Advent. And while I did manage to find the advent wreath and the new candles I bought on sale at the end of last year — four tall candles with soft white wicks — I couldn’t remember where the pink one goes, so I had to Google it. And I decided that — in a world where people make Advent wreaths out of Legos, Mason jars and/or pipe cleaners — I probably don’t need to be too worried about whether the candle of joy is in the front or back, on the right or left.
The wonder I am experiencing is not awe and amazement or childlike anticipation. The wonder that has me by the throat is speculation and doubtful curiosity. I can’t stop wondering why the focus in this season of preparation and anticipation continues to be on great deals and unbelievable bargains when, if we really believe the story, there’s only the one, the one best deal ever offered. I can’t stop wondering about the world’s unanswered questions, failed intentions, the disappointing behaviors long enough to feel the wonder of lighted trees and scented candles and welcoming wreaths.
But it is still Advent.
I am reminding myself of this when across the road flash one, two ... six ... no, eight, nine deer, long and lean, stretching out into the interruption of the headlights like dashes flowing from a fountain pen. There and gone. I sit at the mailbox for a few seconds longer staring at where the deer have been, a circle of pale yellow halogen light hovering, quivering in an ocean of night.
In 1933, folklorist John Jacob Niles was attending a meeting of evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police of Murphy, North Carolina, when a girl, dirty and dressed in ragged clothes, stepped onto a little platform attached to a car and began singing a single line of a song. Seven times she sang for the price of 25 cents for each performance. In his autobiography, Niles wrote, “[S]he was beautiful, and in her untutored way she could sing.” From the single line that the girl sang over and over, that one fragment of melody, Niles composed the folk song that became the carol, “I Wonder As I Wander.”
A line in the second stanza goes, “High from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall.” Rolled out over the top of the car where I sit, still and alone, over the field where the deer fly silently in a herd, over the piece of dirt where all year long I wonder and wander, the stars’ lights fall tonight. They are exceptionally bright. The sky is like a connect-the-dot picture. I get the feeling that if I can link one star to another to another to another, something wonderful will appear. Something wonderful. Something wonder-full.
I stare. Not hard. Not intently as though into a microscope, but with eyes wide and receptive. I can make it out now. It is the dirty ragged girl on the platform. The poor child with nothing to offer. I blink and then blink again when I recognize my own face. I am the one with dirty hands and feet, with patched clothes, with nothing but my untutored gifting and a craving to share with the world that which is inside. And I can do it only because I stand in the rain, in the reign of starlight pouring high from God’s heaven on a too-warm December night.
It is Advent. I still don’t know what to do with the pumpkins — or any of the other things, tangible and intangible, that are left over from previous seasons — but I’m beginning to understand how to best anticipate and prepare for the best season of all. I will keep wondering. I will keep wandering. And I will keep singing one line over and over and over again. Emanuel. God with us.