On Friday, after two days of non-stop rain, we welcomed the New Year with a day that the weather app on my phone described as “dreary.” The skies lived up to the prediction, but the atmosphere in my family certainly didn’t. January 1st is for us, however dark the weather, a celebration of light, our light, my daughter Lucia who was born New Years Day six years ago.
Though we didn’t get to have our annual outing to U.S. Pizza, her favorite, we did order in and celebrate her birth with close family. For some of the other people in Lucia’s life, friends and mentors young and old, my wife Emily invited the delivery of a different kind of gift. “As we enter the new year,” Emily texted, “our theme is hope and wonder. So to celebrate Lucia’s birthday drop off something homemade or found in nature that inspires hope and wonder for you.”
And the gifts came. There was a bird’s nest carefully wrapped in a box, there were shells and coral, there was a set of magical images cut from a calendar and a map of Little Rock we spread across our floor. Friends made finger puppets and paintings, delivering them in secret or with welcome driveway visits. All of them were wonderful, all of them pointed to hope.
Signs of wonder and hope. We need them in any season, but on days that could only be described as dreary, when the normal comforts of restaurants and coffee shops and the embodied closeness of friends is unavailable, we need them now more than ever. And if we look, wonder and hope are ready enough to find. Ours is no static world, no meaningless accident of cosmic forces. All that exists was born from the life of a God who made it all in love, a God who is endlessly fascinated and fascinating.
And yet, for so many of us, our lives are plagued with boredom and anxiety, a sense of ennui. Ennui, a term adopted from the French, captures the existential exhaustion of those who have lost all wonder in the world. It is as much a sign of our lostness as any vice. And so it is that salvation, far from an escape from a life of experience and fun, is actually a delivery right into the heart of all that is truly interesting. God sent his son among us to return us to our fullness and therefore to make our lives far more fascinating than they were before. This is the wisdom of God, born in a hope forged in awe, an openness to the Word that speaks through the cosmos itself.
In the Proverbs, Wisdom is personified. She speaks of her life at the beginning of creation, of her presence with God as the world was formed. “I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,” she says, “rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” Wisdom here is no dry scholarship, no reduction of the world to the bare knowable facts. Wisdom is a playful force of delight, responding to God with rejoicing. To be wise is then to be one captured by delight, worshiping God with wonder, living in hopeful fascination at what God will do next.
So it is with the wise men in our Gospel this morning, the Magi who saw a sign of wonder and hope and let their curiosity lead them to the child who would change the world. Though there has been much tradition and supposition about these wise men, the Gospel tells us very little. We know only that they are from the East and that they saw a cosmic sign—a star, an angel, some light in the heavens—that led them to Bethlehem. We know that they brought with them expensive gifts and that they were strange and powerful enough to catch the attention of Herod, who hosted them like foreign dignitaries. But most of all we know that they were open and curious and that they let wisdom in her wonder lead them to worship.
Worship is this posture by which the magi are known, frozen into statutes of wood or ceramic. Three bowing men before the Christ child offering gifts, arranged around the manger. When the artists of the past imagined this scene in oil and pigment, they almost always titled their paintings “The Adoration of the Magi.” Joyful worship, playful wisdom, openness and curiosity—these are the signs of hope and wonder that we find in our Gospel.
Sing, dance, be merry, says Jeremiah, the lamenting prophet who cannot help but be overwhelmed with hope in God’s goodness. Delight, rejoice, find wonder in the swallows nesting by the altar in the temple, see hope in the sparrow feeding her young in the House of God, calls the song of the Psalmist. Give praise to God for adopting us into his family, giving us gifts of wisdom and power in his love, St. Paul preaches to the early Christians in Ephesus. In all our scriptures ,Wisdom offers playful invitation, signs of wonder and hope that delight in the God who came here among us in the everyday realities of our lives. But how are we to answer that offer now? Does wisdom still play in a world as overwhelmed as ours?
One morning last week, as Emily and I sat with our coffee, talking over dreams and hopes and what the day would hold, we turned to this sermon. I’d been struggling through the scriptures, unsure what to say. Two drafts had been deleted, and I was starting from the blank page once again. “I know you need to preach for the congregation,” she said, “but maybe you should start by preaching the sermon you need to hear.” The conversation meandered from there, to what we’d been reading, to our goals for the coming year. “My focus this year is going to be wonder and hope,” Emily said. And in the wisdom of her focus, I heard my own need as well and perhaps your need too.
For wonder and hope are fundamental to the world. Creation was made in delight and love and play. God has no interest in efficiency and dry business, the cold control of the Herods of the world, whose only reaction to new stars is to hide them behind the glow of artificial lights, safe and easy to manage. Look at God’s creation and you’ll see a mockery of pure function, an excess of color, the strange imagination of a curious creator. On a rainy day, watch one bead of water on a branch, see the globe of life it reflects, wonder at the clouds and the cycles of earth and air, look at the soil and imagine the life you cannot see and yet is teaming beneath you in the billions. It’s all there, all the time, God is always offering us these signs, but so often we lack the wisdom to see them.
Ours is a world in need of wisdom, but not the sort that often goes by that name, the kind that creates products or lives through knowledge that can be simplified into syllabi. We need the wisdom of the wise men, who came without guile, who were open to see the new thing God was doing in the world. Led by their wonder and their hope, they responded with worship, not praise given through dull obligation, but adoration born of joy. This season when we dwell with the Incarnation and we look to the light that has come into the world, let us make a resolution to live in the delight of wonder and the desire of hope.
The God of all peace and joy, of curiosity and fascination, has come into our midst. Look up and look around, let the eyes of our hearts be enlightened with God’s wisdom, so that we can find the awe that is already here. And let us sing, praise and rejoice, let us adore the child who changed everything and the man who died that we might find life again. For worship is wisdom and wisdom is worship and it is through them both that we will find the hope and wonder that God is so ready to give us. Amen.