For many children, Christmastime is a time of wonder. You know: “I wonder what’s in that big box behind the tree . . . I wonder if I’ll get the baby doll I want so much . . . I wonder if it will snow before Christmas Eve.”
Do you still have a sense of wonder like that? Or has it seeped away, drip by drip, as you’ve grown up? Suppose I asked you this question: When was the last time your jaw dropped, your eyes popped? Would you have an answer?
Unless we’re careful, we quickly outgrow our ability to experience awe. We quickly become too “mature,” too “sophisticated,” too “well-educated” to experience anything like awe and wonder. We replace wonder with facts, awe with theories, and reverence with equations.
Not that long ago, for instance, people used to look up from a darkened prairie or desert into the nighttime sky to see a velvet blanket of stars stretching from horizon to horizon. It often overwhelmed them. It was awe-inspiring and tinged with mystery.
Today, it’s grown harder and harder to find a darkened place anywhere on the planet. And when we do find such a place, we’re less likely to feel awe and more likely to think about yesterday’s NatGeo program, the one that focused on the astronomer’s newest ideas about dark matter or neutron stars.
Those theories, of course, can be awe-inspiring in and of themselves. But often, they fall quite flat. They fail to capture the wonder of it all!
Getting to the Heart
Traditionally, Christmas has been a season of wonder. No matter how sophisticated we have become, most of us have an image of the ideal Christmas tucked away somewhere in our heads, in our hearts, an image of what Christmas once was, of what Christmas should have been, of what Christmas could be. Most likely, wonder backlights that image. A childlike, unsophisticated awe frames that picture. We wish that longing could somehow still be satisfied.
As Christians, though, this is the point where we must leave the path that leads to syrupy sentimentality. It’s the point where we admit that no Christmas here on earth ever quite lived up to our expectations. No Christmas ever completely delivered the wonder, the awe it promised.
No Christmas could live up to its promise of perfection, because the people who celebrate it with us and, more importantly, we ourselves, are imperfect beings. Yes, Christmas is about candles and cookies, concerts and carols. But more than these external things, Christmas is about family and friends. It’s about the wonder of the love people share—and in that department, we are all less-than-awesome, less-than-wondrous!
We tire—and then get irritated. We expect other people to read our minds—and snap at them when they don’t. We get in a hurry—and drive as if only we and our own vehicle mattered. We forget to pray and sometimes proactively decide not to spend time with God’s people in worship. We say thoughtless things, hurtful things we later regret. We fail to trust our Lord’s promises. We complain about our circumstances. In sinful pride, we think God owes us more than what he’s giving us. In short, we live as if God didn’t matter and as if we mattered most.
And that’s why no Christmas has ever been all that we expect it to be, all that we wish it could be.
No Christmas—except one. Isaiah 9:6 explains the wonder of that one Christmas, that first Christmas: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”
In just thirteen short words, this verse sums up the wonder, the awe of love—divine love, eternal love, God’s love for us! As the apostle Paul later wrote . . . (Read Romans 5:8 from your Bible). While we were still sinners, the Son of God was born for us! Baby Jesus came on that remarkable, wondrous, awesome very first Christmas. Jesus came in spite of all the ways we would insult God and hurt one another on every day of every year—including Christmas Day.
That’s the wonder, the core truth of Christmas! God’s love for you is unconditional. Jesus came, not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are. And the forgiveness he earned for us on Calvary’s cross transforms all our Christmases—past, present, and future—into days of wonder, times of awe.
No matter what we’ve done or failed to do, our guilt is gone! Our shame is washed away in the mighty river of God’s grace. Sins that were once scarlet red are now white as snow (see Isaiah 1:18).
This wondrous love opens up all kinds of remarkable possibilities. It opens the door to an awesome new life, a wondrous celebration of our Savior’s birth! Now we can let go of our selfish ways of thinking and acting. Now, we can treat each other with patience and in kindness. Now we can spend the wondrous days of Christmas bringing the awesome love of God in Christ to all kinds of people who have never known or heard such unbelievably good news in all their lives!
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”—and that Child, that Son, makes all the difference now and forever!
Taking It Home
(Distribute the items you will send home with participants.)
Here’s a simpler way to say it:
The depth and breadth of heaven’s love
Lie in a meek and humble place—
In manger bed where cattle fed,
The gift of love . . . the gift of grace.
Think about that gift, that wondrous, awesome gift! Then conspire with Jesus—and maybe with a few other believers, too. How will you demonstrate that love as far and as wide as possible this Christmas and throughout each day in the New Year ahead?
Editor’s note: This devotion is slightly adapted from one that accompanies one of CTA’s Ornaments of Faith—four of them new for 2013. Check them out! They make meaningful gifts and they won’t break the bank!
Scripture quotation taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
© 2013 CTA, Inc. Permission to make photocopies or reproduce by any other mechanical or electronic means is granted only to the original purchaser and is intended for use within a church or other Christian organization, but not for resale.