We may have missed “foliage” season in Vermont, but we didn’t miss “frost” season. Last week’s Thanksgiving trip, during one of the blandest times of the year (as far as scenery goes), did not leave us disappointed! Though the trees had long lost their colorful leaves, those above a certain elevation had gained a shimmering layer of white that left us wanting to stop and take pictures around every corner.
On Friday morning, my restless husband convinced our family that, despite the below-freezing temperatures, it was a good idea to go for a hike. We layered up and headed out, parking at the base of a mountain, ready to trek up into the frosty heights!
As we walked, the drab, dry, brown woods gave way to a winter wonderland. Yes, we had just seen Frozen 2 the night before, so yes, we all burst out in, “Into the unknown! Ah-ah-ah-ah!” as we gazed at the icy splendor around us. Every branch, down to the smallest twig, was coated in white. And good thing I had my camera because I never could have described what I saw when I got up close. Wow!
Christmas is supposed to be a time of wonder. Mary’s troubling announcement, Joseph’s angelic dream, and the shepherds’ otherworldly experience were meant to bring us sensations of awe and amazement. We’re meant to be like the people of Bethlehem who “wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:18).
This word “wondered” is used dozens of other times in the gospels as people eyewitnessed the God-in-human-flesh Messiah calming storms (Matthew 8:27), casting out demons (Matthew 9:33), and healing all sorts of human conditions (Matthew 15:31). It’s used to describe the reaction of the crowds to Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 22:22), the reaction of Pilate to His silence (Matthew 27:14), and the reaction of the disciples to the empty tomb (Luke 24:12).
To wonder means to be awestruck by something. It means to be confused and therefore question or speculate about that thing and what it might mean. It only makes sense that the Bible characters we read about would have “wondered” – a once-in-all-of-human-history event was taking place in front of their very eyes! They were genuinely confused as they didn’t know what was happening and had a very limited understanding of what it might mean.
But 2,000 years later, we’re merely celebrating that event, which most of us have done every year for our entire lives. We know what the birth of Jesus means. We understand the significance of God coming to earth as a human to show us Himself and give His life to bring us permanently into His presence. We get it!
My childlike wonder at the celebration of Jesus’ birth may have existed at one time, but like the Vermont trees, it’s long lost its color and gone dull. For many of us, the wonder faded when we grew up and stopped believing in ‘magic’. Or maybe it was when we started taking on the stress of shopping and gifts and decorating. Or when we sang the same songs and heard the same stories year after year after year.
My wonder at the mountain frost was nothing compared to my reaction when I took a closer look. How in the world did those icicles attach themselves like that? How were they staying like that? How did this happen? Sure, I could have pulled out my phone and Googled it, but for the moment I was content to remain in wonder.
This Christmas, a friend invited me to take a closer look at Jesus by joining her in reading through an Advent devotional called “Unwrapping the Names of Jesus”.* We’re only a couple of days in, but I’m looking forward to experiencing wonder – not because I want the magical Christmas feelings, but because I want my worship to be genuine. From a distance, the manger holds a baby, but up close I see the Bread of Life, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, the King of Kings, the Man of Sorrows, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God!
*“Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional” by Asheritah Ciuciu