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It’s a wonder-full life
Joy to the world?
Christmas is the season of joy, right? The word “joy” litters our shopping malls and our mantels. It wallpapers our churches and wraps our gifts. Sometimes the whole endeavor seems to be a sort of straining, a monumental effort of sheer willpower to be joyful (or at least to appear that way).
But all of these placards of joy can, for some of us, end up simply being harbingers of guilt when our hearts are anything but joyful. Others, perhaps those not so prone to introspection, are glad to have encouragement (and apparent permission) to seek their own happiness for a season, to “eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19).
And though Christians know well why we ought to have true joy this season, we are not immune to this malaise, and the reason is that we’ve lost our sense of wonder.
Familiarity breeds apathy
It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt, which I think this is often true. But if not contempt, familiarity at least breeds apathy, and where there is apathy, there is no joy. The cure for this sickness, though, is not in doing and striving, but in seeing—in wonder. Deep joy and deep wonder are intimately connected.
I constantly lose wonder at the world around me. I lose wonder that my fingers so effortlessly obey my will. I lose wonder that this solid ground I stand on is hurtling through space and time at unfathomable speeds. I lose wonder that there is something instead of nothing, and that this something is unbelievably beautiful. But in the moments when I see, there is joy. There can be nothing but joy in simply seeing, even in the smallest things.
It’s no wonder
But as with so many things, we have lost wonder at the story of Jesus’ birth. Many of us have heard this story from our youth, and usually it’s been sentimentalized to death or drowned in cynicism. Nativities and Christmas pageants abound, and the History Channel has 12 documentaries on why the story can’t be true, and so and the D-Day of the most epic war in cosmic history becomes in turn either cute or irrelevant.
Jesus emptied himself so we could be filled with a deep, undying joy in his salvation.
We have lost our wonder, and therefore we have no real joy. But if anything should make us wonder, it is the birth of this child. All of history looked forward to this day. From God’s promise in the garden that one of her offspring would come and crush the enemy of God’s people (Gen. 3:15). From God’s promise to Abraham that one of his offspring would bless the entire world (Gen. 22:17). From God’s promise to Isaiah that one would be born of a virgin, Immanuel—God, with us (Isa. 7:14).
When we survey the wondrous Christ
The passage of Scripture that brings me the most wonder at Christmas is not found in the Gospels, but rather in the hymn in Paul’s letter to the Philippians about Jesus:
. . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
May we have a deep wonder this season, that Jesus emptied himself so that we could be filled with a deep and undying joy in his salvation, and may we encourage others in the same way.