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Pace: Christmas: A Season of Wonder

The shepherds play a prominent role in the most famous version of the Christmas story, found in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Can you imagine what this moment must have been like for them? They were living in the fields and guarding their sheep (Luke 2:8, Common English Bible). They were doing what they do, just as we do each day of our lives. We get up, get dressed, eat something, and go to work, school, etc. On this night, though, the Lord’s glory lit up their lives.

 Last weekend, I participated in one of my favorite annual holiday traditions on the Atlanta campus of Emory University. The service of Lessons and Carols has been happening at Emory since 1935 and includes nine lessons and even more carols that illuminate not only the Christmas story but also the biblical story. 

After the seventh lesson, which highlights the story of the shepherds, the choir sang “Shepherd’s Joy.” The first line of that song says, “One quiet night when all was still, I saw a wondrous sight while tending sheep up on a hill one peaceful winter’s night.” 

As I sat there having listened to the story of the shepherds and now listening to the choir sing the story, I took off my glasses. I do this sometimes when I find myself in the midst of something meaningful. I was sitting on the front row and noticed the Chrismon tree full of white lights directly across from me. My vision was blurry, of course, but those out-of-focus lights added something even more to that experience. 

I put my glasses back on and they came into focus, tiny lights. I took them off again, and they were blurry but bigger and somehow clearer to me. I marveled at this and got lost in the scripture, music, and those lights. The only way to describe it – it was a moment of wonder. A wondrous sight.

 I had another experience of wonder recently when Ami and I went to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a film inspired by the 1998 article “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod. The movie features Tom Hanks who plays Fred Rogers. I need to admit up front that Mister Rogers is one of my own personal heroes and has become more so in recent years as I’ve learned even more about him. 

The movie is quite good, and I highly recommend it.

Near the middle of the film, there’s a scene where Tom Junod’s character, Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers are in a diner. Vogel continues to interview Fred Rogers for the article while going through a good bit of turmoil in his own life. Fred Rogers sees Lloyd thoroughly in a way that makes you know he has been listening to his stories deeper than just surface level. 

In that scene, he pauses and then tells him to take one minute to call to mind the people in his life who have loved him into being. The wondrous part about this is the way the camera focuses in on Fred Rogers. It was as if he was looking directly at me, talking to me. “Lyn, take one minute to call to mind the people in your life who have loved you into being.” Without realizing it, suddenly, I was doing exactly what Mister Rogers (or Tom Hanks) asked me to do. It was one of the most wonder-filled moments in a movie I’ve experienced. It brought me to tears.

Christmas wonder can get lost in the nonessential gifts we buy for people and ourselves. It can get lost in how perfect the decorations have to be. It can get lost in the frantic and chaos. It can get lost in all the things we make it while forgetting what it truly is – a season that calls us back to wonder. A season that asks us to call to mind those who have loved us into being. A season that reminds us of God’s many gifts to us, especially one of the most vulnerable, Jesus as a babe lying in a manger.

“Who’s made a difference in your life?” Fred Rogers was once asked in an interview. He said that many people had made a difference, but he especially remembered the ones who allowed him to have some silence. “I don’t think we give that gift very much anymore,” he replied. He went on to say he was very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder.

At the end of the Christmas story, the shepherds found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, and when they saw them, they reported what they heard about the child. They told about the wondrous sight they encountered with the angels, and everyone was amazed. Mary even committed this to memory and considered it all in her heart. 

Maybe we can take a moment to ponder these things in our own hearts. Maybe we can bring back wonder this Christmas. 

The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University.