“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.” Luke 2:8-9, NKJV
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” If you tune in to the holiday music blaring around you in stores or on the radio, you’ll hear Andy Williams, Amy Grant, and countless other singers crooning these lyrics over and over.
The words tell us Christmas is the “hap-happiest” season of all, with parties for hosting, marshmallows for roasting, much mistletoeing, hearts glowing, and so forth. Not bad sentiments for a winterfest holiday. Let’s all get snuggly and reminiscent while loved ones are near.
But while listening recently to an online lecture by R.C. Sproul, I developed a new appreciation for the word wonderful. When used in Scripture, it’s more than the throwaway word we often use to express something “very nice.” It’s bigger than that.
Sproul says that wonderin the New Testament refers to the reaction of ordinary people around Jesus when they saw what He did, especially the miracles. Sproul makes the point that the first-century Israelites weren’t gullible people. They saw true wonders, true healings performed by Jesus Christ: men blind from birth receiving sight…demons getting cast out…the dead raised to life.
These Bible-times people were no strangers to death. They knew what it looked like and knew when it was real and final. So when Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’s daughter were brought back to life and breath, these onlookers saw Jesus’ work as truly wonderful,with the fear, awe, and astonishment that these events deserved. They were in shock that a man could have this great power at His disposal.
Astounded. Dumbfounded. Amazed. Speechless. Bewildered. Full of wonder. That’s the kind of emotional response Jesus inspired in people He encountered. Jesus was no ordinary man, and they could see it. His very presence was wonderful.
Likewise, when shepherds were watching over their sheep on a very humdrum evening, when the sky suddenly blazed forth a startling display of angel light and power, you can imagine how aghast these men were…so astonished, in fact, that the messenger angel had to make his first words, “Do not be afraid.”
You can just see these men cowering in total panic and dread, even though they’re hearing a joyful message about the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. The shepherds were filled with genuine wonder, enough so that they literally ran to Bethlehem afterward and searched relentlessly through all the streets and homes to find Jesus. When they told everyone else around them what they had seen and experienced, all those who heard it wondered(marveledor were amazed) at what they heard.
In America’s over-merchandised holiday world, we’ve become jaded to the true wonder of Christmas. We can’t see past the tinsel and artificial snow to seek a Savior in the manger. We don’t often feel “wonderful” when we go through the motions of Christmas shopping or even singing carols in church.
Oh, these things might make us joyful and merry. But do we really understand the marvelof God visiting us in flesh and blood? Becoming a man so that He could endure our pain and die for our wickedness? Giving us salvation and eternal life when we deserve death?
That’s the real story of Christmas. That’s the real wonder.
My prayer is that you and I will somehow recover our sense of wonder in this “most wonderful time of the year”…that we will look beyond the trappings of the season and seek the amazing One whose arrival stirred shepherds to run find Him so long ago. Let’s go with them.
Heavenly Lord, awesome God of power and glory, stir our hearts to run to Jesus this Christmas. Let us find Him in the most unlikely and ordinary places. Fill us with awe, fear, and wonder at the incredible news of Your gift to us. Make us people who see You and Your salvation as truly wonderful. And then inspire us to tell others around us—make us so excited that we can’t wait to share Your good news with them! In the name of Jesus Christ, whose birth is a wonder to us, Amen.