Our theme for advent is “I Wonder as I Wander.” Obviously, we borrowed the title from the old Christmas hymn. The person who is most often credited for writing this hymn, John Jacob Niles, borrowed the song as well. As the story goes Niles first heard this hymn sung by a young Appalachian girl.
The girl and her family were homeless and being forced to leave town because they had hung their laundry out to dry on the confederate monument in the town square. Niles heard the girl singing the first three lines of the song:
“I wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die, For poor orn'ry people like you and like I...”
He was amazed by the poignant words of her song and paid her a quarter to sing them again and again so that he could record them. The girl told Niles that she learned the song from her mother but no one could find an original source of the Appalachian Spiritual. Most people could not read or write and so folk songs, like this one, were passed on through oral tradition. Niles created the rest of the Christmas song from those first three lines and the melody that he heard from the young girl.
In these borrowed words the message of advent is conveyed beautifully. Imagine the wonder Mary experienced when she was visited by an angel explaining her upcoming pregnancy and birth. And certainly Joseph wondered at this unusual news! Our scripture passages throughout the season reveal stories of wondering (and wandering) shepherds, angels, and kings.
In each of these stories we are invited into the wonderment and joy. As we wander through this season of expectancy and hope we are filled with our own wonderings as well. We wonder about the likelihood of an infant king and we wonder how God could continuously love His people so much, in spite of our brokenness and human limitations. We also wonder about the health of the people we love, if our jobs are secure, our debt manageable and about the well-being of our neighbors and friends. Throughout advent we wait for the Christ Child and all the while we wonder. We wonder about big things of life and faith and about the very ordinary things of daily life and through it all we know that we are waiting alongside the angels and shepherds, alongside the kings from the east and alongside the homeless girl from Appalachia. We are waiting for the wondrous love that always breaks into our world even though it doesn’t make sense.
May the lights and wrap of this festive season bring wonder to your heart, may the special foods and celebrations remind you of the gifts of abundance that we receive in the Christ child and may you find overwhelming joy in the truth that God came into the world for people like you and like I. God Bless your wondering.