Bill Mowry

The WOW of Christmas

I’m a huge fan of Christmas. I love how neighborhoods and shopping malls explode in color. I walk through the shops savoring the decorations and soaking in the holiday music. For me, there’s a silent “wow” about the whole season.

I know some downplay the pomp of Christmas. They’re concerned that we’ve bought into the values of our consumer culture. I say, “Bah! Humbug!” Let’s enjoy the wild frenzy of lights and decorations. Let’s be generous about giving gifts. Let’s allow the dazzling sights and sounds point us to a generous Lord rather than a frugal uncle.

I think the WOW of Christmas is like the “wow” of good art. When we look up at the Sistine Ceiling, stare at the architecture of the Empire State Building, or marvel at a Mozart symphony, our mouths form a wordless “Wow!” This same “wow” of wonder should be a part of Christmas.

Jesus’ life possessed the WOW factor. He left people in a state of wonder, amazement, and even danger. Life wasn’t safe around Him. Consider these examples from Mark’s Gospel.

Mark 1:22 “and they were completely astonished…”
Mark 1: 27 “and they were so amazed and almost terrified…”
Mark 2:12 “so that they were all amazed and recognized and praised and thanked God”
Mark 5:42 “And they were utterly astonished and overcome with amazement…”

The Gospel birth narratives are soaked with the WOW factor. We label Mary’s song in Luke 2 the “Magnificat,” from the word magnificence. An army of celebratory angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8-10). Magi came to wonder and worship this newborn king (Matthew 2:11). Unfortunately, their visit triggered the revenge of an insecure ruler on innocent people (Matthew 2:16). Wonder and danger followed Jesus, even at his birth.

It’s easy to make Jesus less wonder-full and diminish the WOW factor. It’s sad, but sometimes he can become another “drive-by” experience. We have well-traveled routes to work, friends, or favorite stores. We’ve driven these streets so often that we stop looking at the scenery. Like this daily drive, Jesus becomes so familiar that I stop looking.

When I stop looking, a jump-start to my senses is needed. Author Annie Dillard put it this way, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a package tour of the Absolute? It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews.” Imagine walking into that worship service!

I’m working at placing wonder at the center of my life. How? Jesus’ mother, Mary, provides an example. Mary watched royal dignitaries and common shepherds parade before the manger, giving homage to her son. What did she do? Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).” Jan Johnson writes that this “treasuring” describes how you store memories in a scrapbook to pore over for years to come. I’m working at recording some of these WOW moments.

Wonder and worship should go together to create a WOW. Unlike Mary’s extraordinary experience, our lives are largely a mosaic of little things — routine events, everyday duties, and ordinary conversations — what author Eugene Peterson calls the “splendor of the ordinary.” When we pay attention to the ordinary, we weave together wonder and worship. “Wonder begins with giving rapt attention to what is immediately in front of us,” writes Esther DeWaal. “People often think that the basic command of religion is, ‘Do this!’ or ‘Don’t do that!’ It isn’t. It’s look and wonder!” Wonder and worship starts with the little things of life, like the sights and sounds of the Christmas season.

When I embrace the Bible’s view of life, I learn to look eagerly for what God is doing rather than focussing obsessively on what I’m doing. Richard Foster’s observation rings true, “We see a sunset and are drawn into analysis rather than doxology. We ignore the smell of deity.” The WOW factor is all around me if I take time to look. A line from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem says it best,

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees takes off his shoes —
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries . . .

I want to experience the WOW factor this Christmas. I want to catch the scent of Deity in the evergreens. I want to discover God’s beauty in the bright lights and the giving of gifts. I want to relish all of what Christmas means, storing up treasures of His presence to pore over in the years to come. I want some WOW this Christmas season!

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