The power of wonder

Published 10:43 am Saturday, December 3, 2016

by Andrew Book

Christmas is a time of wonder, and the season leading up to Christmas (commonly called “Advent”) can be a great time to grow our sense of wonder as we look for God in the world around us. This past week at Courtland United Methodist Church, we began studying the “Wonder of Christmas” on Wednesday nights. This study has already given me a new appreciation for the importance of wonder in the life of faith.

Our study on wonder began by looking at the start of Christmas. The star is a common symbol of the Christmas season. We put stars on top of Christmas trees, hang them from our porches, and see them in store windows around the country, but the original star of Christmas was a tool used by God to point those whose sense of wonder would lead them to the newborn Son of God.

The original star of Christmas appeared at Jesus’ birth for everyone to see, but there were precious few people whose sense of wonder and desire to encounter God actually compelled them to follow the star.

The story of the magi or wise men is a story of wonder, because these people from a far away land saw the star and followed it to Jerusalem because they knew it told of a newborn king. There, in Jerusalem, the wise men pointed the star out to many of the Jewish leaders — and it is here that the story takes a shocking turn. The Jewish leaders knew the prophecy of God sending a king and they even know where Jesus was going to be born (an Old Testament prophecy said he would be born in Bethlehem). So, they pointed the wise men toward Bethlehem. But they themselves did not follow! They simply went back to their business (or maybe busyness?) and missed the chance to encounter the Son of God.

What is so shocking is that these people, people who had been waiting for God to send the messiah for centuries, didn’t have enough wonder in their hearts to join the wise men in a five-mile journey to see if the prophecy had indeed come true. They saw the star. They knew the Scriptures. They knew God’s promises. But despite all of that they stayed home because they lacked the wonder to explore the sign God had given them.

Unsurprisingly, the leaders who were uninterested in Jesus’ birth became the leaders who opposed him when he grew up and began to share about the Kingdom of God. The idea that they could learn more about God, change, grow or follow God more closely was buried so deep within their hearts by that time that not even the Son of God himself woke it up within them.

I wonder what would have happened if they had followed the wise men. I wonder if watching those wealthy, powerful people bow before a humble baby would have changed their hearts. I wonder if seeing Jesus as a child and sensing the presence of God would have changed their stories. Of course, we will never know what would have happened differently if they had followed the sign God gave them, but we can take a lesson from them.

The lesson is this: follow the signs. If we let wonder fill our hearts this Christmas and seek to follow the signs of God’s activity in the world around us, we may be surprised by the ways we discover God is working. If we don’t follow the signs, we shouldn’t be surprised if we struggle to see God. It is easy to get lost in the busyness of the Christmas season and fail to take time to hear the story of Jesus’ birth with new ears, to look for God in the life of a person who needs our help or a listening ear, or to make space to worship. But we need to make space, because otherwise we may miss Jesus.

May you let your wonder guide you! If you want to join us at Courtland United Methodist Church as we explore the “Wonder of Christmas,” come join us on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. (potluck dinner at 5:30).  Childcare is provided and we would love to have you come wonder-ing with us!

Whether or not you are here, may the wonder of this season truly capture your heart and help you see God.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or