At the heart of Christmas, a sense of wonder
Enjoying the wonder of the season does not mean being Wonder Woman or Wonder Man.
Special to The Seattle Times
Of all the lovely words associated with Christmas, one stands out to me. More than "holly," "jolly," "merry" or "mistletoe," the word "wonder" stirs my thoughts and points me in a new direction, away from the nonstop sales pitches and energy-draining to-do lists. A line from the old carol "We Three Kings" says, "Oh, star of wonder; star of night. Star with royal beauty bright." Wonder — it's at the heart of Christmas.
There are different kinds of wonder, though. One kind goes: "I wonder who put these blasted Christmas-tree lights away last year in such a tangle?" (Oh, yeah. That was me.)
But there's another kind of wonder that fairly shimmers with meaning, especially at Christmas. This version of wonder means to be filled with awe and rapt admiration. It is to marvel — to be astounded by something precious.
In a world where sadness often trumps celebration, where sensory overload seems to minimize our capacity for amazement, we need this kind of wonder to restore our emotional health and to remind us: There are still plenty of ordinary and extraordinary things that can leave us breathless and awe-struck. Unfortunately though, instead of being filled with wonder, many of us are trying to be Wonder Woman (or Wonder Man) this time of year.
As a child, I always had a sense of wonder at Christmas — it seemed magical. The twinkling lights, the mysterious packages, the delicious food, the gathering of noisy relatives, the singing of carols and reading of the Christmas story — these filled me with wonder and anticipation. One thing I never wondered about was how the celebration actually happened in our home. Thanks to my hardworking mother, it seemed effortless. After all, I wasn't the one who had to plan, decorate, clean, cook, host, shop, wrap and send — while the other demands of life kept clicking along, as well.
Sometimes, we lose our sense of Christmas wonder as we grow up. The mystery is gone when we look at our crammed-full calendars, lists and budgets. That's when we shift into our "Wonder Woman, Wonder Man" syndrome. We want the Martha Stewart home, beautifully clean and decorated to the hilt, with delicious homemade goodies on the gleaming countertop luring all passers-by.
Our always-helpful children will spend their holiday evenings freshly scrubbed, clad in matching pajamas, quietly reading Christmas stories before the crackling fireplace. The fresh, fragrant tree will be perfectly shaped with needles that refuse to fall off. And those presents bought during the big sales last January? They were wrapped and labeled in July. All the relatives should be warm and jolly folks who are never at odds with one another and never overstay their welcome. Right.
Wouldn't it be nice if December days were like a Hallmark commercial — poignant, superbly written and well-rehearsed, with violins playing in the background at just the right moment? But life, even during the holidays, includes things you just hadn't counted on.
I remember one Christmas season when I was trying my best to be Wonder Woman. I'd taken on many extra commitments and also was hosting family and friends from out of state. I'd spruced up the house and decked the halls. The day our guests were to arrive, just as I was putting finishing touches on the meal we would share, someone knocked at my door asking if I knew that our chimney was on fire. No, actually, that hadn't occurred to me.
Soon (thankfully) firemen were tramping through the house in their muddy boots, dragging their huge hoses behind as they made their way up into our attic. I was grateful for their efforts to keep our house from burning down, but all my attempts to be Wonder Woman with the Martha Stewart-esque ambience quickly went up in smoke.
When I think back to the first Christmas, it wasn't perfect, either. There were heroes and villains, hopes and hardship, promises and pain. Jesus didn't come to a Currier and Ives picture postcard. He came to mud and manure, to poverty and oppression. Yet, wise men still followed a star of wonder: something they couldn't fully understand, that led them to an unfamiliar place, to meet Someone who would be called "Wonderful" (Isaiah 9:6). Like them, I need to be led again into the wonders of the season — to be awe-inspired anew at the mystery of what God did for me in sending His Son, Jesus, gift-wrapped as a baby, to be my Savior.
Like them, I'm going to remember to look up (the farthest direction a human can see) and be on the watch for wonder at this most wonder-full time of the year.
Bye-bye, Martha Stewart. Hello, stars.
Jodi Detrick is a minister with the Northwest Ministry Network (Assemblies of God). She is also a public speaker, an author and a life coach. Readers may send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org