The promise of being filled with awe is present every Christmas. This holiday surrounds us with beauty — festive lights, up-lifting music, and the art of the Christmas card. Even in an increasingly faith-less culture, Jesus is still present. But is the Christmas experience always AWE-full? I must be honest. Sometimes it’s not for me.
If I polled everyone reading this blog, we would probably all agree: “We’re too rushed to enjoy the awe!” How do we slow down while checking off the gift lists, planning holiday travel, or mailing the Christmas cards? How do we embrace the awe, the WOW of Christmas?
Awe is that sense of discovery or awareness of something beautiful, majestic, or wonderful. There’s often a feeling of smallness and loss of identity in comparison to something more beautiful or more powerful. Awe takes our breath away even for a brief moment. Awe is the “WOW’ experience of Christmas.
Two gospel events help make my Christmas AWE-full. The first is Mary who finds awe while alone. I know this is hard for extroverts, but it can be an essential for filling Christmas with awe.
It appears that Mary was alone in her home when the angel Gabriel appeared to tell her that “she would conceive … and bear a son” (Luke 1:31). Introverts enjoy alone time but Mary had an extroverted side as well: she “hurried” (Luke 1:39 NLT) to the home of her friend Elizabeth to tell her the good news.
Author Michael Frost writes that “the ability to slow down psychologically and spiritually long enough to come to attention to what is happening around us is a discipline many people appear unprepared to embrace. To be aware . . . to be astonished by the ordinary, is a noble and godly cause.”
The Psalmist regularly paused to “remember your wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11). Pausing to remember means scheduling alone time. How can I get started in planning some AWE-full moments of solitude?
- Turn off the car radio or streaming music and think about the lyrics of your favorite Christmas carol. Pause to take in some of the awe.
- Get up 15 minutes early and look at the Christmas tree asking such questions as: “What do the lights tell me about God?” “Where do trees show up in the Bible and what can I learn from them?” “How do these gifts remind me of God’s goodness?”
A second AWE-full example are the “wise men” or “magi” (Matthew 2:1). These counselors to the Persian king were both astronomers and astrologers; they had mastered the practice of looking at the sky. When they saw the star, they traveled with a battalion of soldiers looking for the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:20). The wise men were filled with awe because they were looking and paying attention.
We must create small moments to pay attention and look for the awe.
In his book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder by Dacher Keltner, he describes the power of an awe-walk. On an awe-walk, I stop and look at the scenery around me with fresh eyes, imagining I’m seeing it for the first time. Awe-walks can go somewhere new or recognize new features in old places.
What happens when you unleash seventy-five-year-olds to practice an awe walk (after seventy-five, happiness drops and depression and anxiety increase)? Research discovered that over time the participants “began to feel less anxiety and depression, and to smile with greater joy.” Feeling awe is healthy for us.
Paying attention to an awe moment is a challenge that requires discipline. Author Eugene Peterson writes that Jesus trained the disciples “to look at the ordinary and personal as the places where he initiated his rule and established his sovereignty.” We see God’s rule in life as we stop to pay attention.
So, in this season’s rush, how can you stop, pay attention, and spot the awe?
- Take a walk with your spouse and identify the little things that bring a sense of awe. Stop and thank God for them.
- While shopping, stop, pause, and look for some signs of awe. It could be in a person’s face, a decoration, or the beauty of a product. Think how it reminds you of God’s presence.
- Set the timer on your smart phone to go off once or twice during the day to pause and look for an AWE-full moment.
Want to have an AWE-full Christmas? Want to experience the WOW? Consider Mary. She experienced God’s awe while alone. Pause in your busy schedule and schedule a few minutes to ponder an AWE-full God. Reflect on the wise men and take a moment to look. What do you see that fills you with a sense of awe?
May this Christmas be reminiscent of the shepherds who, seeing Jesus, praised and glorified God for all that they had seen and heard (Luke 2:20). We wish you an AWE-full Christmas!