Unwrap the New Year with Wonder and Awe

Christmas 2016 with Grandma Yvonne Fischer holding baby Blaire Yvonne Munger.

Christmas 2021 was the second holiday season our family spent in the absence of my Grandma Yvonne Fischer. She had been my last living grandparent, and I miss her terribly. Even so, her spirit remains very much a part of my family.

Grandma Fischer had a few tricks up her sleeve come Christmas. She LOVED laughing, mostly at herself. You could tell her she spilled chili down the front of her white shirt, or that she had butter smeared all over her face. How would she react? Instead of getting upset or embarrassed, she would let out a great big belly laugh! Her spirit exuded joy, and everyone around her felt it.

We always knew what gifts grandma brought, because she wrapped hastily — sometimes with duct tape or three types of paper, often we’d find loose popcorn as a filler. We never quite knew what grandma was up to, but we could count on a surprise!

One gift in particular would be wrapped a certain way each year. One of us four grandkids would luck out and get THIS gift. On the outside it looked like any of the others. We’d peel back the paper, open the box, only to discover another wrapped box inside. Maybe you know this trick? We’d unwrap that box, open it to find yet another. With each unwrapped gift, my grandma’s laughter got louder. On and on, sometimes 5-6-7 layers deep were these boxes, until we’d arrive at the actual gift. We enjoyed what she gave us, of course, but what we learned to look forward to most was the sound of her voice filling the room. The journey she would take us on was one of surprise and delight, joy in not knowing what came next.

This year my kids and I missed opening gifts with my family — stupid flu. But I made certain the kids opened their grandma’s gift — my mom — over our video call, because I knew it was an experience that would connect us across time and age. I need to keep Grandma Yvonne’s tradition alive, so when the kids opened my mom’s gift over video, she watched box after box unwrapped, until shared laughter filled the screen.

Our lives of faith are like unwrapping that kind of gift. Part of the delight of living is not knowing what we’ll find when we open another box. Who knows what 2022 brings our way? I don’t, but I do know where I intend to direct my gaze — toward Christ who lights up the world with wonder and awe. The one eternal mystery, God in the flesh.

Last week Christmastide concluded with the celebration of Epiphany. I imagine Mary reacted to the arrival of the Magi in much the same way as when the shepherds paid the holy family a visit in the stable — “Mary treasured these words and pondered them in her heart.” Much of our faith is found in the earnest questions we ask and the surprises we embrace. And for inspiration we can look to the lives of our ancestors, like my Grandma Yvonne. Like Mary and Joseph, who readied themselves for every surprise along the journey of ushering divine into the world via human flesh.

The concept of journey is a deep part of the scriptural narrative. I know it can be unnerving not knowing the outcome of another year. The truth is, nothing in life can be predicted with certainty. But that doesn’t mean we need to live in fear.

Can you even imagine what must have raced through Mary and Joseph’s minds as they heard news that the King was trying to take the life of their firstborn son? Forced to live as refugees in a foreign land? They show us the way to live in faith. Keep on moving, follow the guidance of the wise ones, and receive each day as a gift that it is, to be opened with wonder and awe.

As we begin a new year, it’s the perfect time to recommit to our own pathway of trusting the unknown to a higher power. What does that look like? For one, it means we’re on the move — we’re learning, growing, adapting. Along the journey, we begin to understand what it means to claim divine in our lives as those who bear the image of God within.

What in your life might change if you choose to see each day as a gift? How will your days look different if you unwrap them with wonder and awe? Who knows what divine surprise awaits those of us willing to embark on the journey! May we be surprised by joy and delight at the gifts awaiting us this year.

Emily Munger is the pastor at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Pierre.

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