Rev. Peter Faass
I wander as I wonder out under the sky.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
When what to my wondrous eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul.
O Star of wonder, Star of night.
Walking in a winter, wonder land.
All who heard it wondered at the things which were spoken to them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:18)
The theme of wonder is richly woven throughout Christmas hymns, songs and sacred scripture. Wonder permeates Christmas in both secular and sacred celebrations. What is more wondrous than a flying reindeer and a jolly fat elf that comes down chimneys and leaves good folks gifts? What is more wondrous than the virgin birth of God incarnate, in a backwater town 2,000 years ago with angelic choirs singing Gloria?
At Christmas we revel in the wonder of children as they experience twinkling lights, festively wrapped gifts, the taste of delicious sweets, Santa Claus and Nativity figurines. Christmas is full of wonder in all its iterations.
And yet, here we are on the morning of December 25 after yet another arduous, over-wrought “holiday season,” and our reserves of Christmas wonder may be in short supply or exhausted. We certainly are!
Christmas can leave us feeling quite depleted of our wonder from all the planning, baking and cooking, the partying, shopping and wrapping, the preparations at home and church, or dealing with difficult family members. We may even feel jaded and cynical, thankful that, well, it’s finally over. If we think this way, it’s antithetical to the whole point of Christmas. Jesus was born so that we, who sit in great darkness, can see his great light – wondrous light that has the power to banish cynicism, jadedness, and exhaustion in our life.
R.S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who lived from 1913 to 2000. Among Thomas’s works is a poem titled “Blind Noel” that addresses how we lose our sense of wonder at Christmas:
Christmas; the themes are exhausted.
Yet there is always room
on the heart for another
snowflake to reveal the pattern.
Love knocks with such frosted fingers.
I look out. In the shadow
of so vast a God I shiver, unable
to detect the child for the whiteness.
Christmas: Even when the themes are exhausted, “there is always room on the heart for a snowflake to reveal the pattern.”
I think this is one of the loveliest theological phrases about Christmas I have ever encountered.
I think Thomas is saying that even when all of the stuff of how we have come to observe Christmas sucks the wonder out of us leaving us exhausted, God makes enough room on our hearts to place one more snowflake to reveal the wondrous meaning of Christmas. In the shadow of so vast a God who desires to do this, we shiver as our wonder of this awe-filled season is restored.
This theology-wrought poem goes to the heart of the Christmas story and the doctrine of the Incarnation. God became human in Jesus to lift us out of all those life-sucking behaviors and attitudes that plague the human condition. In his life, Jesus role-modeled a way of life for us to emulate; a way of life that would bring us out of darkness to light, out of cynicism to wonder, out of fear into love. That is our salvation.
While we recall and celebrate this wondrous gift at Christmas, we are called to this way of life all the time.
When I prepare adults for baptism, (or the parents and godparents of infants), I always dwell on a particular section of the concluding prayer in the service. It is one of my favorite phrases in the Book of Common Prayer.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen. (BCP p. 308)
I ask people being prepared for Baptism to think of a baby, growing into a toddler and then a child. I then ask them to think about what they recall as they observe that little one growing in awareness and discover the world around them. Think of the first time they encountered a flower, a puppy or a kitten, a bug, dirt, a tasty new food? What was that child’s response? It was an “aha moment,” right?
Each first encounter with something new and delightful becomes a moment of delight, awe and wonder. Each of those wondrous moments in the child’s life are moments when God placed a new snowflake on their hearts, revealing the patterns of God’s love for them. The child delights in each new snowflake because children have not grown cynical, jaded and exhausted. They know – at some intuitive, primal level - that God’s Creation (all of it) is filled with wonder. That wonder fills them with joy, and that joy always calls us to gratitude.
In the Baptismal prayer, we are reminded to recapture that sense of wonder for ourselves that children have. We want to let go of our exhaustion and grasp the promise of wondrous love that radiates from Bethlehem’s manger.
This Christmas morning, is there still room in our hearts for another snowflake to reveal its pattern of God’s vastness and abundant love to us? Of course there is, because that is God’s way and desire for us.
There may not have been room at the inn for Mary and Joseph, but ultimately there was room in the stable for the birth of our Saviour. If there was room for his birth when everything appeared full, there is room on your heart to accept the snowflake of the Christ child, so that he may reveal the pattern of Christmas and fill you with his love.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
 No Truce with the Furies (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1995), p. 84.