Reclaiming Wonder
Rachel Wells

Though I was raised in a devout Christian home, our faith tradition did not really practice or observe Advent. Which is why, as a child - and even into adulthood - I did not understand much about this season of anticipation. My exposure was pretty much limited to the calendar that hung in our living room, with a cookie for each of us kids nestled in the numbered pocket for each day of December.

When Bret asked if I thought it would be good for MWF to participate together in an Advent study, I was excited. How wonderful to have a chance to not only “do” Advent, but to experience it in community!

Not really knowing what to expect from the study, I began to help plan and organize the study and book orders. My own anticipation grew as the first Sunday drew nearer and more people asked to join. In particular, I was excited to experience the study with my children. In the past, I’ve struggled with finding meaningful ways to help them keep in mind the “reason for the season.” This could be it!

But then the day came, and my boys seemed annoyed with me for “making” them read something like this. With each day that passed, I could feel my excitement deflating like a balloon.

And then my 8-year-old cam to me. “Mom, I’m going to ask you a question and I need you to be honest.”

“Okay,” I agreed, expecting the dreaded Santa question.

“Some of my friends at school say that they’ve seen their parents move their elf. Do you move ours?” (He was referring to our Elf on the Shelf, an elf toy that watches the children during the day, reports back to Santa each night, and then gets into "mischief" of all sorts during the wee hours of the night 

“Oh,” I thought. “This isn’t nearly as big a deal as Santa. Phew!” Assuming that he was now already “in the know” and that the question was really just a technicality, I answered, “Are you sure you want me to be honest?”

Boy, was I wrong. He immediately began to cry. “Mom, when you say things like that, I know what the real answer is.” He was devastated. So we talked. And I explained. And he told me how disappointed he was - waking up to see what Jack the Elf had magically been up every night was one of his favorite parts of December. All of the fun was gone now that he knew that it wasn’t really magic at all, just Mom and Dad moving around a toy.

He pretty much cried himself to sleep that night, and I spend some time trying to figure out what he still needed me to explain so that he could find some peace in this new discovery.

So the next morning after he discovered what the elf had been up to, and I saw that the fun little twinkle in his eye was no longer there, we talked some more. I explained that one of the reasons that the Christmas season is so wonderful is because of all the fun little traditions we do, like Elf on the Shelf. I am on the the team that works hard to make those things happen, and now he could choose to be on the team, too. “The power is in your hands,” I told him. "You can choose to make this season wonderful and fun and magical…or you can choose to be grumpy because it’s not what you used to think it was.”

He thought about that for awhile, and then announced, “You know what, Mom? I think I’m just going to forget about “the Jack thing” while I’m at school today. Then everything will be back to normal tomorrow morning.

And sure enough, he jumped out of bed the next morning, eyes shining with anticipation and delight, and immediately began his search for Jack the Elf.

I knew then that he was teaching me an important lesson…but it took me a few days to put my finger on exactly how it applied to Advent. As he cuddled up to me tonight at his brother’s past-bedtime band concert, and I relished his allowing me to stroke his sweet little head of hair, it hit me. I know how the Advent story ends. I’ve read it in my Bible seventeen hundred times, and sometimes don’t really even digest the familiar words as I read them. I want to “forget about the Jack thing” - forget what I already know, and experience the season with the wonder and excitement of someone experiencing it for the first time. 

I’ll never forget sitting in the required Genesis-Esther Bible class at Abilene Christian University my freshman year. The boy sitting next to me had not grown up in the church, and had very little exposure to anything Biblical. As we read about Noah and the Ark, you could see it in his eyes. He had never read this story before. He was absolutely intrigued and in awe. Seeing someone hear the word of God for the first time is life-changing. That is what I choose to experience this season.

So this Advent, in the words of the Christmas song played by my son’s 7th grade band tonight:

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye,
O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold Him
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord.