This Christmas, during a threatening pandemic, wonder and surprise could be a casualty. Right now, fear seems to be gripping our hearts and we are looking for hope on the horizon. Sounds pretty much like the scenario of the very first Christmas. God's people, in the throes of being oppressed yet again by the latest bully on the block, were overwhelmed by the drudgery of the status quo, of serving Caesar's whims while trying to survive everyday life. The prophets had spoken of a time when God would act again on their behalf and they prayed incessantly for such a time. They struggled to hope.
In the midst of their cries, God responded, but not as they thought. Instead of a messiah to conquer their enemies and restore David's throne, God sent a baby, born not in the royal courts of Jerusalem, but in a manger in the rural town of Bethlehem, among the animals, to a lowly carpenter and his young wife. To say the least, this was a total surprise to just about everyone, then and even now. God coming to us wrapped up in love and grace to save us from our sin, from ourselves, was and is unexpected, nothing less than pure, unmitigated wonder. And I believe such Christmas wonder is still with us. We just need to pay attention.
At the Christmas Eve service, a loving grandmother sat with her two boisterous grandchildren, ages three and five. Their parents sat in front of the church to present a nativity reading tiltled "Silent Night." They had warned the children to behave. With scrubbed angelic face and Christmas wonder in their eyes, they looked like model children posing for a magazine holiday spread. THen, the son pinched his sister. The grandmother was grateful that the organ thundered into the first hymn drowning out her yelf. She grabbed her granddaugther's hand before she could return the pinch. During the Lord's Prayer, the kids shredded the program they were given to color on. The crayons had already rolled under the pew. Soon bits of paper fell on the carpet like snow. How many of us have been there!
It seems they were enjoying an uneasy truce when their parents stood to deliver the reading. "Mommy!" the son yelled. Mom frowned, and he sat back in his seat. "Silence," the father started his reading to the congregation. "Think for a moment what this word means to you." His wife signed his words. Earlier that year, she began to use her new signing skills for the benefit of the few hearing-impaired members of the church.
The son said a naughty word, thankfully too low for many to hear. Grandma scowled at him, shaking her finger and her head. The granddaughter grinned. Then she proclaimed, every syllable enunciated perfectly, in a clear voice that carried to the far corners of the sanctuary, "My brother is a potty mouth!" Everyone stared. The grandmother was too stunned to speak. The father and mother looked at each other. But instead of anger, there was surprise. The dad set aside his script and told another story. He told about their daughter being born profoundly deaf. He talked about four years of hearing aids and speech therapy with no guarntee she would ever learn to speak plainly. He talked about the rugged faith that kept the family prayer she would have a normal life. He said his daughter's outburst was an answer to prayer: the first perfectly enunciated sentence she had ever spoken.
From the back of the room, a lone voice began to sing the beloved Christmas Carol, "Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn king." While the congregation sang four verses of the unscheduled hymn, the two little angels ran up to and wiggled themselves into their parents' arms, adding laughter and giggles to the joyful Christmas noise.
Surprise and wonder are all around us and often show up prominently when we least expect it, and all we can do is bask in the way they get our attention. Christmas will forever be the surprise and wonder of God saying to us so glaringly, "I love you!" And wonder of wonders, God's love is not yet finished wiht us. Even in a pandemic, and among the various things that stress us out today, if you look around closely, you will discover that God finds ways to surprise and delight. This is the Good News Jesus came to proclaim. Let us experience a wonder-filled Christmas!
~ Dr. Bob