Christmas Cards: The Wonder, The Reality

given on Sunday, December 20, 2009

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The third Sunday of Advent and the cards are still sitting around and not in the mail.  Yet, the short Advent season is over half way through and I am at least a week behind mentally.  I did not even begin listening to my Christmas music until this week, which is totally out of character for me.  Still as I started thinking about the messages for the season, I kept hearing one phrase from an old Christmas song I learned on the piano myself.  It was one my mom had bought the sheet music for and sang at least around our house.

The words and the tune always send chills down my spine because there is something sad and glorious at the same time.  “I wonder as I wander …” takes me right back to the setting of the first Christmas.  I find myself wondering just what it was like to be ordinary people living through the daily routine and following the laws not only of their faith, but also of a government they had no choice in.

The Christmas cards we send today continue to use the words and the images of the song.  The phrases we read on the cards often include “the wonders of Christmas.”  Typically I expect the images that one word, wonder, pulls up in our minds are the excitement we see in the children’s eyes, the return of family members who we seldom get to see, or maybe the images of the magical white Christmas we think it should be.  I am afraid that the wonder we picture really is not the wonder in the song.

“I wonder as I wander out under the sky” typically brings a different image to my mind’ eye.  When I hear the melody and the words, I am transported back to the fields around Bethlehem.  I can only picture myself as one of the shepherds out tending the flock of sheep.  I look up at the stars and I start wondering why in the world the prophecies of a Messiah have not been filled.  I do not see the word filled with awe but with questions.

In the scripture from the gospel of John, the oldest words of the testament are echoed once again:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Amazingly those words are almost the same as those in Genesis:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

Another familiar verse is echoed in John’s gospel and it is from Exodus 3:14: And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

The wonder in the Christmas card messages may indicate the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets’ announcements; but on that first Christmas morning, I suspect or wonder if we would have trusted the angels calling us away from the flocks in the field.  I would have wondered just what in the world was going on.  I would have thought realistically that I could not leave the sheep unattended.  I would have thought I was too tired to know what was really going on and that I was just dreaming.

Today, we pick out our Christmas cards believing the wonder of Christmas is the answer to the questions of the shepherds.  The questioning form of wonder is now the excitement of wonder as exhibited in our children’s eyes as they race to the Christmas tree or the awe we feel when we look out at a fresh carpet of sparkling snow and it is Christmas Day.  The wonder of Christmas is the wonder we feel in our souls that God did send us the gift of his son.

The messages we are sending to our families and friends no longer is filled with questions about whether or not the prophets were correct.  The messages we send lets everybody know how blessed we are that Jesus did “come for to die” for our sins.  Still, are there “poor orn’ry people” who still have not heard of the wonder?  Are there people still only dreaming of a different life in which the daily routines do not drain them?  Are there still those dreaming of a life filled with promise?

The wonder of Christmas, the awe of Christmas, may still be just a dream for so many.  Talking with the students this week, I realize that many of them have no sense of the glorious wonder of the Christmas story.  It is so difficult not sharing with them the awesome wonder I have in my life because there truly is a reason for the season.

I am saddened by the knowledge that so many of our struggling young people have no dreams for their own lives or hopes that they can change their lives.  I am frustrated that my message of Christmas cannot be shared with the students for the truth that it is.  All I can do is pray.  All I can do is provide them a type of Christmas card that may only hint at the wonder of Christmas.

Is there a deeper message in our words?  Surely there is, but we are guilty of not explaining it or not being open about it.  Our faith is our private business according to society’s current standards.  Our faith, though, is our business and our business as Christians is to share the good news.  We can sing it out all season and even all year.  We can send out Christmas cards with the message written right there in bold, fancy lettering.  We can share the images of Christmas in so many ways that we can make it everybody’s business.

No longer do I, do we, have to wonder about Christmas.  Now we can wander all over this universe and share the message of Christ.  The Christmas cards we share do not always have to share explicit Christian images, but it should share the message.  We do want everybody we know or meet to understand how Christ makes a difference in our lives.

The messages in the cards I like to share are small little prayers for the readers of the messages:

  • May the warmth of friendship and the wonders of the season add special joy to your holidays.
  • May Christmas surround you with beauty, touch you with warmth, and fill you with joy.
  • May you have a heart warming Christmas and a joyous new year.
  • A time of sharing, a time of giving, and a time of believing.  Merry Christmas
  • May the Wonder of Christmas come magically to life for you and your loved ones.

Each of these sentiments, from one who believes, is a prayer for those who receive.

Now, I wonder if we should go back and read the cards we receive, too.  I admit that I am looking forward to checking the mailbox right now.  I always wonder who I might hear from during the holidays.  One of the very first cards we received this week came from a cousin.  I was amazed, awed, at the card he and his new wife sent.  The message was clear, the images delightful, and there was no doubt that it included a prayer.  The folk-style images of the nativity are on the front of the card where the shepherds bow down in prayer and the stars shine bright.  The words began on the front make the statement as a fact, and the words on the inside are the prayer:

Christmas

A Savior has been born,

He is Christ the Lord …

Wishing you happiness and peace as we

celebrate the season of the birth

of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our message is clear:  God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that we might have life eternal.  There is no reason for us to wander around this world in confusion, in frustration or in misery because we have already been given the gift of God’s love, his grace, and his only begotten son.  The wondering of the generations ended at the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.  The wonder of God’s gift fills us up and grants us peace.  We do have a reason to celebrate.

Dear Heavenly and Gracious Father,

Thank you for the gift of your son.  We know the wonder of this precious gift and we want to share it with the world.  Help us to use the season to share the reason whether face to face, whether in the words of a carol or in the images and messages of our cards.         –Amen

The Christmas story continues in Luke 1:67-80 from The Message:

67-79Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;

he came and set his people free.

He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,

and in the very house of David his servant,

Just as he promised long ago

through the preaching of his holy prophets:

Deliverance from our enemies

and every hateful hand;

Mercy to our fathers,

as he remembers to do what he said he’d do,

What he swore to our father Abraham—

a clean rescue from the enemy camp,

So we can worship him without a care in the world,

made holy before him as long as we live.

And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,”

will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,

Present the offer of salvation to his people,

the forgiveness of their sins.

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,

God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,

Shining on those in the darkness,

those sitting in the shadow of death,

Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,

down the path of peace.

80The child grew up, healthy and spirited. He lived out in the desert until the day he made his prophetic debut in Israel.

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