"You are the God who works wonders…" Psalm 77, The Bible
Christmas is wonder-filled. There’s the confetti-snow, jingling bells and posturing Hollywood stars, not to mention the Staple's Commercials and Polar animation. Then there’s the real vintage stuff, Bing Crosby, that Kringle guy, and the little kid and his BB gun. But this is not wonder.
Crazed by genuine Trivial Pursuit, our society goes berserk this time of year: Here, have a new Care Bear,™ try on this GAP™ sweater with matching scarf and nose ring. Desperate shoppers, linked by a common bond of frustration, tell each other wordlessly, This is madness.
And it is. But so what? Beneath a veneer of Sponge Bob™ and the correct vocabulary one should use to describe this season, Christmas is still about wonder.
Imagine yourself alone. You stand on a windswept hilltop, far from city lights, and anchor yourself in the center of a shadowed silence. Only the wind sighs, tugging at your coat, and then—flick—a solitary star winks on in the night. You watch it hover, draw closer, then bank like a silent helicopter and float away, westward, like an animal asking you to follow. The star hums a melody that you feel rather than hear. Since when are stars happy?
A recent song runs, “God of wonders, beyond our galaxy…” But what of the wonders within our galaxy? What if we forget, for the moment, the Milky Way and distant nebula, and consider the living Truth that intersected with earth? Christ’s proximate, earthbound miracle is enough to stun the senses.
Imagine the journey’s end. The star had its way with you; really, who could have denied that celestial invitation? And now, how can you explain the illogical warmth of this night, like invisible fire flaring from icy cobblestones? A golden light illuminates each face in the drafty shack. You feel forced to silence by the awful air of mystery; are there ghosts here?—or rather, those hidden beings, angels—are they nearby? And yet, you must speak! Breathing in is like sipping wine, a heady, bubbling, joy. You look down at the child and irrepressible buoyancy collides with epic significance, melding like a bittersweet fragrance. So you open your mouth, and wonder what will come out. Laughter? A sob? Whatever you said then, it was somehow fitting, and, like the air, golden…
“Such knowledge is too high, I cannot grasp it”(Psalm 139:6), admitted the psalmist of God’s presence everywhere. What would he have said of the God who entered our world? And not merely to ghost through it, taking a look around—but a God who submitted to our corrupt social systems, breathed air sweeping off a mountain lake, and shouted down those who wanted him dead? A God whose mere birth was a threat to the establishment—his nativity as good as his own death warrant?
You step outside, returning to courtyard air. Somewhere, a dog barks. Overhead hangs a satisfied star, eloquent in its silence. Inside, a hungry child sparks wonder with his cries. Inside, where just moments ago laughter had welled up and tears had fallen into freezing air—there had been an unanswerable question: Why? And now the question remains. It always will, you think, all the more beautiful for its irrationality. Why is he here? What reason can there be?—and still, He Was.
“I wonder as I wander,” penned songwriter John Niles, and his words are fitting.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die.
For poor, ornery people
like you and like I
I wonder as I wander
Out under the sky.
Christmas, for me, bears kinship with one of Frost’s “winter” poems, and the forest that seems to call him with a mysterious voice, deeper-than-sound…
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year...
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
In a similar way, Christmas calls to me—silently, ceaselessly. The mystery of Christmas can swallow a person whole. How can one confront this true story? I may as well ask the unfathomable question, Why did Christ come down? "Well, because He loves us." Yes, but why? An unbearably sweet secret. And so there is enough wonder in Christmas to satisfy our senses, more than enough. In fact, there is too much wonder, like brushing at a grey-blue sky with my fingertips. How can we reply, then, to a gift greater than earth and sky?
Two millennia ago, foreign nobles replied as best they could, following an unseasonable star hundreds of miles. Leaving sweeping dunes behind, they sloshed at last through city muck, carrying a king’s ransom. And then what did they do? The only thing they could—they and a few more, Joseph and Mary, shepherds, other nearby lives; they did what they could.
Worshipped. Worshipped and wondered.