The Return of Wonder

I have to say, it wore off a long time ago.

The adrenaline rush of Christmas, that is. I don’t get the thrill of anticipation that I used to get on Christmas Eve as a child, barely able to sleep as I wondered what would show up under the tree the following morning. Even long after I surrendered the Santa Claus mythology, I still continued to eagerly await the gifts that I knew would materialize in various wrappings the next morning.

As an adult, though, the excitement and wonder of it disappeared years ago.

We still put up trees. I’m still around people I love (this is my first Christmas with my new in-laws, as well as my first New England Christmas…very different this year). But the wonder is gone. Not so much the happiness, because I understand now that what brings that happiness has changed. It’s no longer about receiving gifts, it’s about other things. The happiness has remained, but not the wonder.

Until tonight.

Tonight, I was at a Christmas Eve service singing Silent Night by candlelight. Much more traditional service than I’m used to, and not altogether my thing, but I enjoy new experiences. If you’ve visited here very often, you know that I shy away from tradition altogether, so hymns and traditional Christmas carols really aren’t my thing. But when I end up somewhere singing them, I like to ponder the words, to make it an act of worship instead of an act of repitition. So I was focusing on the words to the song tonight, and I couldn’t help but to wonder at what that night must have been like.

If you permit yourself a real picture of what must have happened instead of the sanitized and commercialized manger scene that dominates our Christian pop culture, and imagine a teenage mother giving natural birth to a child in a stable that smelled like crap, it sort of boggles the mind. See, there’s no historical argument that Jesus was a real person. But if you choose to accept that He was God, then the fact that God would allow Himself to arrive in such un-assuming circumstances, a birth unknown to the world and even the town around Him, you can’t help but wonder.

A town full of people blissfully unaware that the God who created them had suddenly shown up in a rank and stinking stable without immediate fanfare or proclamation. As a writer, I must appreciate the irony.

Even aside from why He came, the fact that He came amazes me. And therein lies the spirit of tonight and tomorrow, the “spirit of Christmas,” if such a trite expression must be used.

Therein lies the peace, the reason for the celebration.

And therein lies the wonder.

Christmas Time Is Here?

Wow, I can’t believe that Christmas is in like four days. Karen and I are bustling about trying to take care of Christmas cards we still haven’t gotten out, packages we still haven’t shipped, and buying odds and ends, including travel-sized stuff so that we can get through the insane security for our Saturday morning flight and appease the TSA gods.

I had to think last night that I am so thankful for her this Christmas, and that there are gifts under our tree, and that we have family with which to spend Christmas. But I’m disillusioned, nonetheless. Not about us, but about what I see around us.

Now, I suppose I should confess that I actually enjoy Christmas shopping. I like the electricity in the air at the malls as people rush around, attempting to find the perfect gift. I had that look on my own face as I attempted to find the perfect gift for Karen this year. I enjoy the Christmas music I’ve recenty been loading onto my iPod, and I enjoy gingerbread lattes from Starbucks (I certainly don’t miss the snow, although we’ll probably see that when we fly north this weekend…groan!).

Every year, though, it’s bittersweet because I see people obsessed with the materialistic drive to give and receive the coolest gifts. I’m confronted with the media blitz of a country driven by a “whoever dies with the most toys wins” mindset. I’m all too easily caught up in this if I’m not careful. My goal for myself over the next couple of days is to focus on the purpose of the celebration. The gift-giving, while a wonderful thing, isn’t the ultimate reality here. The violent sport called last-minute shopping certainly is not. There’s a much deeper reason for all of this, a turning point in history, a moment when God intruded into our space-time flow and physically moved in with us, for just a few years. A few years that altered everything. A few years that began at an unlikely time, with the unexpected fulfillment of a prophecy, and has altered the course of every life at this time of year ever since.

Pondering that, if only for a little while, will change your perspective about all of this.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

The Real World

Okay, so two weeks without a post, but I’m happy to report that the last thing standing between me and my master’s degree is a term paper in my Greek class. I’m looking forward to taking some well-deserved time off from school.

Of course, this means moving back into the “real world.” Unlike most grad students, I left the professional realm and have only worked here and there for the last three years or so (Seminary degrees tend to be really long…). So, this means returning to reality and worrying about making an decent salary, paying off debt, and the sudden responsibility to be the provider now that I have a wife and all.

No more papers, no more exams…but, no pleasure of researching and learning and discovering and solving problems and creating and…

…no more school…back to reality….

…okay, wait…this kinda sucks!

Actually, it’s a temporary respite, because Karen and I are both planning another degree. While I don’t think I’m going to do the next one full time as I did this one, I’m anxious to go back in a way, because I love to learn and to expand my horizons. Not to mention that you just meet the coolest people while in school…the atomsphere is just different. It’s one of exploration and discovery, and a freedom to create.

I think its important to touch base with the “real world” occasionally in order to avoid being in a bubble. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere worse about putting you in a bubble than Seminary. So, a year or two in the real world, and then I get to focus on learning and discovering again.

Not such a bad deal.


I’ve often wondered, “why?”

Not necessarily big “why”‘s, although certainly I have my moments with those. But even little “why”‘s.

Examples: “Why did this happen to me this way, when I didn’t deserve it?” (after getting married to my lovely wife).

“Why did the car in front of me get stopped when I didn’t?” (when you drive like me, these things come up frequently).

“Why did God set things up to run this way?”

I’ve encountered a lot of the last question (or forms of it) from other people in the last few years. Why did God design things to run a certain way? Why did He allow things like hurricanes to happen? Why does the world operate the way it does? Why? For many people, it’s a barrier to full belief.

Unfortunatley, I’ve also met a lot of theologians who had the audacity to formulate answers to these questions.

To me, if I am an unbeleiver who asks this question, and someone formulates a neat and tidy answer to it, then it sounds to me like they’ve designed the mythology in which they believe. It’s fake. It’s too neat. Life, experientially, just isn’t that neat.

It’s much more believable to me to hear someone say that they don’t know. If someone tells me they don’t know, then obviously they are truly saying that there is something, Someone, outside of themselves that they cannot comprehend. That makes it easier for me to believe that they believe. Because to believe in God is to, at some level, hold a fearful respect for Him. Not to try to explain everything about Him.

There are many things about Himself that God has communicated to us, and I love digging into those facts and understanding all that I can about them. But those facts, I think, are a minimum of what we need to know. We are, by definition, less than God, and we will never be able to get our brains around Him. There are many aspects of Him that will always remain a mystery to us.

And God’s mystery has come to be one of His most fascinating qualities to me. There’s something wonderful about mystery.