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Awe and Wonder: On My Christmas List

What brings you wonder? What causes you to stop and stare? What takes you aback, makes you catch your breath for a moment?

When I was a child, maybe six or seven, I remember waking up in the middle of the night one Christmas eve to a very bright light outside my bedroom window. I got up, looked out, and saw the most beautiful, big, bright star. I was astonished, in awe, confident this was the same Christmas Star I’d heard about in the Christmas story, the star that led the shepherds to the baby Jesus. I stood and stared at it in awe, feeling like God sent that special star again for me to see and know that Jesus was born that day.

I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and to this day I’m still not sure exactly what I saw. It was definitely a star, brighter and more magnificent than one I’d ever seen. I’ve seen other brilliant stars since then, including one particularly bright one during several Christmas seasons, but the memory of that one is truly unique. Maybe it seemed so awe-inspiring because I was so young, and it was the first time I'd seen a star like that. I’m not exactly sure, but I know I will always cherish that feeling of pure awe and wonder.

One of my favorite things to do when studying the Bible is to select a book and go deeply and carefully through it. So in November I decided my next study would be the gospel of Luke, knowing it would begin with the stories leading up to the birth of Jesus, perfect for Advent and Christmas. I was quickly reminded, however, that those stories only take up two chapters. As soon as Luke 2:21, Jesus is eight days old, and in Luke 2:42, he’s twelve. Time moves quickly through the beginning pages of this gospel, and though I’ve continued to read past them, I’ve found myself constantly going back, again and again, dwelling on those first two chapters.

The other day I asked myself why. Was I stuck? What kept me from wanting to move on? It’s not as if I’m struggling with the passages, finding them confusing or difficult to comprehend, but I’ve just been led to keep reading them. Strange, right? Well, maybe not.

While thinking and praying about this, I suddenly had a realization. Maybe the reason I’m feeling compelled to read them over and over is because what I’m seeking and desiring and clinging to right now is that thing I felt on Christmas Eve long ago:

Wonder and Awe

I don’t want to lose that this Christmas, and it’s in these beginning pages of Luke that I see people experience it.

It starts with Zechariah:

In Luke 1, he’s serving in the temple, chosen by lot to do this. Even this, I learned, was a big deal, a once in a lifetime opportunity for a priest. And then, an angel appears. Stop for a moment and reflect on that. An angel! Appearing before him.

From reading many passages in the Bible of angels appearing, it’s easy to breeze through them as if they’re normal, expected, everyday occurrences. But they’re not. An angel appearing is unexpected and frightening, demonstrated by the fact that every time one appears, the person seeing it is always astonished, and the angel always says, “Don’t be afraid.” If I stop and imagine this for a moment, I can feel the awe and wonder of it.

The angel says, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-15) Of course, Zechariah is astonished and baffled by this news, particularly because Elizabeth is well beyond child bearing years.

Several passages later, we see Elizabeth express her awe and wonder:

She exclaims, “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” (Luke 1:25)

Then, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary. He tells her to not be afraid, and that she will give birth to Jesus, the Son of the Most High, and then we continue to see over and over the joy, the wonder, the awe people feel over all this good news:

When Mary visits Elizabeth:

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Mary responded,

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things! (Luke 1:42-51)

Then again after John the Baptist’s birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah:

Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what happened spread throughout the Judean hills.

After Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit:

Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a might Savior. (Luke 1:68-69)

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

To the shepherds:

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. (Luke 2:9-10)

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others –the armies of heaven –praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:13-14)

And after the shepherds saw Jesus and told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them:

All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. (Luke 2:18-20)

There is so much joy and awe and wonder in all these passages, and as I type them up, I am even more confident as to why I’ve felt compelled to stick with them these past several weeks: so I don’t lose the wonder.

I invite you to do the same, whether it’s these passages or any others. If for some reason, you feel the desire to mull over a verse, a passage, or a chapter of the Bible again and again and again, do so. The world has plenty of opportunities for rushing. Let this be a time when you don’t. It might just be God speaking to you, telling you to not be afraid, that he has good news, and he hopes you’ll stop, if even for a moment, look up, and listen.

Some Journaling suggestions:

  • Read through Luke 1 and 2 and notice all the times people are filled with joy, the Holy Spirit, and promised peace. Write down the verses that stand out to you.

  • What are you longing and hoping for this Christmas? Write a prayer to God, asking him to fill you with the peace and joy he gives.

  • Keep a record of little things you notice that are awe-inspiring in your day – the rain, a starry sky, Christmas lights, a glowing candle, the smell of pine, a cuddly, furry pet, the smile on a loved one’s face, a cherished memory. Write a prayer of thanks for one or many of these.

  • Listen to a favorite Christmas song that reminds you of God’s love and glory. Maybe write down the lyrics and turn them into a personal prayer as you listen to the song. A favorite one of mine recently has been Phil Wickham’s “Star of Wonder”:

Star of wonder, star of light

Star with royal beauty bright

Westward leading, still proceeding

Guide us to Thy perfect light

Guide us to Thy perfect light

God of wonder, God of light

God is with us here tonight

Holy Savior in this manger

Come to set the world to right

Come to set the world to right

Gift of wonder, gift of light

Gift of royal beauty bright

Heaven's glory here before me

Born to bring the dead to life

Born to bring the dead to life

I pray you feel God's love, and the awe and wonder of it this Christmas. Have a blessed week full of his peace.

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