“All who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:18).
Some translations use wondered.
Others say amazed.
Others use the word marveled.
The story itself sounds incredible, especially the part about hearing the angels in the middle of the night, not to mention finding the Son of God in a feeding trough. It’s even more surprising that God chose lowly shepherds as the first evangelists.
Amazement comes in two varieties. The first has to do with temporary fascination over an unusual turn of events. It’s what happens when a five-touchdown underdog manages to win a football game. Terrible teams occasionally get lucky and beat much better teams. It’s unusual but not miraculous.
The second kind of amazement we could call “Holy Wonder.” It’s awe that comes from seeing God at work in the world. Go all the way back to Genesis and you discover God created the entire universe out of nothing. He spoke and the stars flew into place. He spoke and the earth took up its orbit. He spoke and the squirrels began to scamper through the forest.
God speaks and it happens. He takes a lump of dirt and makes a man. Then he takes a rib and makes a woman. When we read Genesis 1-2, we encounter something truly wonderful, that is, full of wonders on every hand.
The wonders continue to the very end of the Bible. Revelation 19 tells us that when Christ returns, he will have written on his robe and on his thigh, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). When Christ returns, he will establish his kingdom on the earth, and all earthly kings will bow before him.
Christmas is indeed a cause for holy wonder. How can it be that God should become a man? How can a King be born in a feeding trough? How could the world ignore his coming? And what sort of God comes into the world like this?
We ought to be amazed at Christmastime. If we go through this season without ever pausing to think about the wonder of it all, then we have missed the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place.
Lord Jesus, we long to be transformed by the wonder of your coming. Free us from our addiction to the mundane. Give us the faith of a child so that we can laugh with joy once again. Amen.
Musical bonus: During the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a poem that expresses the hope for “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Let’s listen as Sleeping at Last sings I Heard the Bells.