Few words cause an instantaneous response in our house. I can think of only a handful that send our kids into immediate action. I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M. As parents, we become proficient spellers, knowing that simply uttering the words will send little ones careening toward the freezer hoping they can get their hands on some Chunky Monkey or Death by Chocolate.
The magic word at our house these days that causes our almost two year old to drop everything and take off in a sprint as fast as his chubby little legs will take him, is bath. Even if I spell it, B-A-T-H, he knows. Instantly, he heads towards bathroom. There is no hesitation. Often times the rush toward running bath water is accompanied by his sing-song voice saying, “bath, bath, bath” on repeat.
Warm water spills into a filling tub. Little toes dip into the growing puddle. Squeals of delight with each splash. Surprised, wide eyes when he dips his nose too deep into the pool of water.
During this particular bath he has discovered that someone has left the bar of soap within reach. His hands get a good first grip, but as soon as the soap takes a dip into the water, it becomes a slippery toy. More delightful squeals as the bar of soap plays hide and seek under the surface. His eyes gleam at me with pride as he pulls the bar of soap out of the water like he has won a prize for finally wrangling in the impossible. Then he does it. It is only logical in his mind. He sees the soap, smells the soap, feels the soap, you see where this is going… There aren’t many senses left.
Having finally gotten that bar in his grasp, he takes a big bite. For the first time since he heard the word “bath”, he stops moving. “Wait, what?” I can almost see the speech bubble appear above his little head. It’s not what he was expecting. At the taste of soap on tongue it becomes apparent the anticipation between brain and taste buds was thrown a curveball when the count called for a fast ball.
Isn’t this like life? We walk each day, anticipating a specific outcome and many times we are left in wonder, thinking to ourselves, “Wait, what?”
In the first chapter of Luke, Mary has an encounter with Gabriel the angel. The passage says the angel appeared and said to her, (28) “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” We then read on to see Mary’s response, (29) “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
Mary was most likely having a fairly ordinary day. When Gabriel shows up with a message from God, her response is equal parts trouble and wonder. We are okay with this. Given this same circumstance in our own life, we could identify with those same feelings.
The angels goes on to deliver the message from God. Mary has found favor with God and will be with child, a son, and he will be called Jesus. “(32) He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Full of wonder and no small amount of confusion, Mary inquires, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Again, the angel delivers more news from God regarding the Holy Spirit, and the miracle He has performed in Elizabeth’s life and ends with, (37) “For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary, like all of us, had settled into some predictable patterns. She knew when to expect fastballs and curveballs. But now, she’s not even sure she’s playing the right sport! Mary needs these moments of disruption to open her up to wonder. We all need these disrupted moments in life. Wonder filled, “wait, what?” moments.
Mary’s journey to the stable is beginning. She was not anticipating this path. She was not prepared for this course. But she responds. Perhaps this is the part of the story where we start to struggle with identifying with Mary. She says, (38) “I am the Lord’s servant… May it be to me as you have said.”
When my son bit into that bar of soap he looked a little defeated. How could such a fun toy, which was leaving magnificent bubbles in its wake, taste so terrible? As tears began to brim in his wide eyes, he stood up, ready to call it quits. His beloved B-A-T-H time was done in his expert, two-year old opinion. But a few nights later, in our post dinner chaos, when the word was spoken again, the sound of little feet rushing toward the bathroom resounded again.
Most of us do not chew on soap. Most all of us will not be visited by an angel and told we will carry the Son of God. Yet, for each one of us, Advent is a reminder that the unexpected can break into our lives and change everything. How will we respond?
For my son, regular baths are necessary. For Mary, that baby was going to come. For us, we will sing, “joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King.” Between this moment right now and that moment when we celebrate Christ’s birth, there will be troubling moments. What will your response be after you utter, “wait, what?” Will you continue jumping in with both feet like my son? Will you join Mary in turning disruptions into awestruck wonder? Maybe Advent isn’t found in the perfect and pain-free, but in the wonder of Christ that keeps us grounded through every challenge. What will you do with that wonder?
Marcie Gates has served as a partner in ministry for the last 7 years alongside her husband Andrew at Bretton Woods Covenant Church in Lansing, MI. Their 4 children and a full time job keep life busy, but in the in between moments she enjoys baking and a good cup of coffee with a friend.