By Rev. Canon Stewart Murray
This article appears in the January edition of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa
Throughout the Christmas season the words and the themes that seemed to be everywhere were joy and wonder. They were present not only in the wonderful carols, but in the scripture readings and in the liturgies that were offered. This theme of joy and wonder continues into the Epiphany season that leads us to the season of Lent.
The scripture records that when the wise men finally reached the simple home of the Holy Family, “…they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” and “…fell down, and worshipped him.” Matt. 2:10-11. The link between joy, wonder and worship is a powerful element in our spiritual lives. Joy is, in the words of the Oxford Dictionary, “…a vivid emotion of pleasure, extreme gladness…a sense of discovering something unexpected”. It is a fleeting emotion. The wise men must have been exhausted after their long journey. Disappointed by the lack of understanding of Herod and his courtiers, they could have returned home dispirited, but instead they lifted up their eyes, saw the star again, were filled with joy, and were able to continue their search for the Child.
The times of joy in our life are gifts that bring a new dimension to our experience of the world. Joy lifts us from the mundane of the everyday; it opens us to the possibility of a deep way of engaging with the world and our life, and ideally leads us to praise God and give thanks for our many blessings. In the fullness of every day, with the demands of work, family, and the myriad responsibilities we all have, it is far too easy to lose sight of the truth that we are part of something greater than the present day. Or, like Herod and those around him, we may have preconceived ideas or biases that blind us to the wonder and new possibilities that abound in God’s world.
Reflecting on my own experience, I have often been surprised by joy. Standing beside a lake as the sun rose and the stillness of the water was like a mirror, I was filled with a deep sense of joy and wonder at the beauty of the moment, and was aware of how small I am in the scale of creation. I have experienced the indescribable joy of holding a child only minutes old in my arms, and being humbled that I have been entrusted with such a precious gift. Joy has also flooded me while watching my grandson play trucks at my feet after dinner; it caused me to marvel at the continuity of life and to wonder at my role as a link in the chain of life.
One cannot manufacture occasions of joy or call them up at will. Rather, one needs to cultivate a sense of wonder and an expectant attitude – looking for beauty, goodness and hope in the people with whom we live and work and in those whom we encounter in our daily routines. The Gospel reminds us that Christ will reveal Himself through His creation and in the people around us, if we have the courage to look. Herod and his followers did not look up and see the star that had captured the imagination of the wise men, and thus failed to find the joy that the wise men did at the feel of the Christ Child. How often in our journey have we missed the opportunity to do good, to speak a word of hope, or to simply be fully present to the people around us? How often have we missed the joy present in the everyday?
As we approach Lent, we have the opportunity to decide that for those forty days, we will look up and see the Christ in the world around us. We will look for beauty in the faces of the people we meet, seek goodness in the world so often marred by injustice and ugliness, and be agents of hope in a world so often shaped by despair. Let us together ask Christ for the grace to see the word and each other as He does and open ourselves to opportunities for joy and wonder once again.