If we want to capture wonder, there is no better place to see it than in young children. They discover and delight in every aspect of things they see, touch, hear, and feel (and sometimes they discover hard lessons too that are not delightful). They are awake to the sensory experiences in their lives with a fascination that is observable. Somehow, we can lose that sense of wonder as we get older, but at Christmas time we get glimpses of it again no matter what season of life we are in.
What is wonder?
Wonder means amazement, awe, marvel, astonishment, and surprise. We look and look but we cannot believe our eyes. As we are taught and learn more, we often lose some of that sense of wonder as we try to figure things out from a factual perspective. It affects every aspect of what we think we know. Before we knew about how the earth rotates and revolves around the sun in orbit with other planets, humankind wondered at the order of day and night and seasons and so many other things.
What is your first childhood memory of Christmas? If you take a backward glance to consider that, I suspect you will discover there was wonder there.
Most of us were captivated by the sight of our Christmas tree, no matter how tall or short, crooked, or straight. There were beautiful lights that captured our attention (especially when all the other lights in the room were turned off). Ornaments of vibrant colors caught our eyes as well and we wanted to touch them and the tree to take in more than what our eyes alone could see.
We learned there would be surprises ahead on a certain day (Christmas) and we would receive something under the tree from someone who knew us and cared about us. For some of us that included Santa Claus and all those traditions when we were very young and for others there was an awareness the surprises were from our parents.
We wondered what there would be under the tree for us and soon learned we could make a list of our wishes.
My earliest memories were of my dad reading the Christmas passages from Luke on Christmas Eve and the admonition to go right to sleep when it was time for bed. In our family the tradition was that when we awakened on Christmas morning we could only come down to the bottom of the stairs of our farmhouse and then wait until we were told we could leave that spot. After that we might glimpse the tree, but breakfast had to come first before we could look at what surprises awaited us. And how long that whole process seemed to take.
We were not poor but not wealthy either so I soon learned that most of the surprises (gifts) would be practical things we needed instead of all those amazing things we saw in the Sears catalog or in store windows. There were times an aunt of ours who had no children of her own would surprise us with something special and not practical such as perfume for me when I had just become a teenager. And a favorite part of the season was when my parents would get us into the car, and we would drive around neighborhoods in awe (and wonder) at the beautiful lights and displays so many homes had in the best parts of town.
Wonder is one of the gifts of Christmas, not because all these things that might give us those feelings but because when we talk about God being a God of wonder, it means everything about God begins and ends with wonders. He carries out miraculous works and He alone can do great wonders. From his creation story at the very beginning of all things to eternity yet to be experienced on every level, God is indeed a God of wonder. We can’t totally figure out everything where He is concerned.
The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, puts it this way as He speaks of God through the revelation he was given:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”Isaiah 55:8-9 (KJV)
As we grow up a bit more, we hopefully come to realize that Christmas is not about what is under the Christmas tree or even who is around it, but rather WHO Christmas is. Only God can reveal that to our hearts and how He can do that is indeed a wonder.
Look at Paul’s words:
And above all else Christmas is when He wants us to see and learn who He really is and why He really came. He came as a baby to live as a man on the earth to show us who He was and to help us see He understood us far better than we believed or could have imagined. To add to that understanding is also to know that even as a babe in a manger, He knew that He came to die.
In July of 1933 in a small town in North Carolina, a small girl was overheard singing a captivating melody expressing wonder at God’s choice and gift of wonder during a revivalist meeting led by her evangelist father. They were forced to leave the town after using the fountain in the town square to do laundry and from there they were off to wander to some other place. John Jacob Niles heard the young girl, Annie, singing the first three lines of the song. He was a collector of folk songs as he traveled the hills and mountains of Appalachia, and he heard Annie singing and asked her to sing to him repeatedly and as she did, he jotted down the three lines of verse. (Each time she repeated the song, he paid her 25 cents.) The tune and the words gave Niles the idea for a carol for which he added new lyric verses. It resulted in him publishing “I Wonder as I Wander” in 1934. Perhaps you know the lyrics, but if not, they are a way to remind us of the Christmas gift of wonder:
” I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.
When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.”
Let God awaken in you once more that gift of wonder, one of those amazing gifts of Christmas.