And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden." --Isaiah 29:13-14
Years ago a pastor convinced me that one of the most tragic consequences of the fall of mankind into sin is that we cease to wonder. Things that at one time would amaze and astound us can become ordinary.
When, for example, is the last time you were amazed at telephone technology? To think that you can simply press several buttons on a little hand-held device and talk live to a person across the country is actually quite amazing. Or consider e-mail. Like you, I fire out countless e-mails in a week rarely being astounded that my words can reach a person anywhere in the world at the speed of click. This should amaze me. And think about air travel. Isn't it a wonder that we can board a massive metal container in Los Angeles in the morning and arrive in New York City in time for lunch? But millions of passengers each year ascend and descend with no sense of wonder at all. The technological advances over the last hundred years or so boggle the mind. We should wonder at computers, smart phones, iPods, home theaters and video games. But, sadly, we tend to take these things for granted.
And it's not just technology we perceive as ordinary. When did you last marvel at the wind? Or the way trees change color in autumn? Or how clouds carry and dump water? Or how grass grows and flowers bloom? Or childbirth? Or old age? Amazing.
This tendency to no longer wonder -- to cease to marvel at these incredible aspects of life -- reaches its most grotesque form when we cease to wonder at the Gospel.
At Christmas time this is a particular danger. We may become rote or mechanical in our celebration of the season: baby in a manger, three wise men, joy to the world, etc. We go through the motions of our traditions and may in the process actually miss the wonder of it all.
Paradoxically, the church's tradition of Advent can actually be an antidote to this sinful slip into monotony. For Advent reminds us that we were made for God -- to marvel at Him, to be astounded by Him, to wonder at the glory of a God that would condescend to reconcile sinners to Himself. But oh, how sin has a way of choking the life out of our capacity for wonder! We ought to hate sin for the way it binds us to the mundane.
The lighting of the Advent candles the four Sundays leading up to Christmas reminds us of the Incarnation of Christ, the arrival of the Light of life into this sin-darkened world. Advent recounts for us the astounding promises of God to redeem His people and the fact that all the promises of God are "Yes" in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20). Advent holds together the marvel of the nativity and the shocking truth of the Atonement. Charles Wesley captured the wonder of this when in 1739 he wrote,
And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
There is wonder upon wonder in the Christmas story. It is during this season that we proclaim with the church of ages past this most marvelous truth: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). When this reality becomes merely ordinary we miss the heart of Christmas.
In the busyness of the season we must force ourselves to slow down and consider the wonder of the Incarnation, including: our Lord's miraculous birth, his humble beginnings and earthly ministry culminating in the Cross. We do this to the end that we marvel again at the God who comes to us in the Gospel.
Mike Pohlman is lead pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, WA.
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