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When Wonder Turns Into Wonderful
December 19, 1982

First United Methodist Church of Modesto

The Advent banner grew a new word this week; actually a suffix— "ful''. We wait and watch that our experience of Christ may be wonderful, filled with wonder. Perhaps our banner has discovered the secret. Is an experience of wonderful dependent on an experience of wonder? Get the sequence in order. We Americans in our haste for instant gratification so often miss the wonderful--we hurry, cook, decorate, purchase, wrap, sing, party etc. for Christmas, then we blow it all in one evening and a day, collapse wearily on the couch and gasp, "Is this all there is?" 

Let's begin with wonder—a sense of surprise, astonishment, amazement, admiration, awe, an experience of an intake of breath, a pause, a mystery.  The Christmas story is filled with examples of wonder. The shepherds were amazed at the light in the sky, the singing of angels, the message the angels told them. They were astonished, even afraid, for this new phenomenon had never happened to them before. The wise men—astrologers probably—studied the heavens and observed that something was going to happen in the sky that would signify a great event. They were curious, and curiosity is an important part of the wonder experience. When Mary and the baby were suddenly visited by strangers who told of unusual events that brought them to the manger, Luke says, "She pondered these things in her heart. " She pondered, puzzled, mystified, a wonder experience. 

Wonder is all around us for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear—astonishment, amazement and admiration. Elizabeth Barrett Browning has written, "Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; and only he who sees takes off his shoes--the rest sit around it and pluck blackberries." Some look at a bush and see it aflame with God's glory; others look at the same bush and see something for their stomachs. Earth is crammed with heaven. The heavenly is part of the earthly. The holy is on every hand. God can be seen at every corner. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins also writes, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God. " It's all in the attitude. Two workmen were asked, "What are you doing?'' One replied, "I'm laying bricks. " The other said, "I'm building a cathedral." The latter had captured a sense of wonder, awe, amazement. He was part of something wonderful—the building of a cathedral.  

Where do you experience wonder? I feel wonder when I stand at the ocean beach, watching the power, hearing the waves cleansing and washing. Or, standing in the mountains and looking over a vista of color, staggering beauty that only the hand of God can make. One of the deepest experiences of my life was to watch Craig's birth. What an awesome experience to be present at a birth, to hear a new born infant cry, to marvel at the tiny bones, muscles, organs and everything working properly, to love his mother and appreciate all she has gone through. That was a wonder experience. 

Wonder is in the attitude. Perhaps we need to approach God at times in wonder, in awe. It is an awesome experience to realize that the God who made all there is, (and how many universes are there) with space so vast, larger than our comprehension and smaller than our comprehension, that this God hears us and cares about us. We Americans especially want to be on chummy relationships with everyone—first name basis, no formality. We carry this into our religion where Jesus is known on a first name basis. Chummy. It is fine to know Christ as friend, but there should also be times of worship, of amazement that we are in the midst of the living God, the judge of the universe. If our worship could contain elements of wonder, we might more often experience the wonderful. When you read the Bible, open it in wonder. This book has been preserved for centuries with little error in translation. This book contains the word of God. Read it in awe and wonder. When you pray, approach God in wonder. Wait, don't talk all the time. Watch, wait, listen. 

Margaret Ross has written a poem, "Softly Christmas”, 

Walk softly as you go through Christmas 

That each step may bring you down the starlit path to the manger bed. 

Talk quietly as you speak of Christmas 

That you shall not drown out the glorious song of angels with idle talk and merriment. 

Kneel reverently as you pause for Christmas 

That you may feel again the spirit of the Nativity rekindled in your soul. 

And the most awesome experience, the wonder of it all, is the realization deep in your heart that God loves you. Isn't that amazing? This great God who made all there is, who came into the world as a baby, not only knows you, knows your name, every hair on your head, but loves you. What a marvel! You are made by a loving God for a purpose. You have been given talents and abilities for an opportunity to serve. You are loved. Are you conscious of your sin, your choosing other than God, your acts of disobedience, your acts of selfishness, greed, hatred, envy? Then, confess them all to the God who loves you, forgives you, redeems you. 

To turn wonder into wonderful, act on and trust in the experience. What if the shepherds had distrusted the angels, if they had dismissed the experience as either being a dream intended for someone else, someone more important? What if the shepherds had not gone into Bethlehem "to see this thing that has come to pass”? And missed the event? What if the wise men had not satisfied their curiosity and traveled in pursuit of the star? They experienced the wonderful because they acted. They trusted their wonder experience.  Act, trust in your experience of God. Act on it or you will lose it. Trust in it or you miss the wonderful. When you see a star, follow it. When you hear the angels, obey. When you know God loves you, act as if you are redeemed, saved. You are different. You are a new person. You belong to God. You are one of God's people. You are an ambassador, a minister, a worker. Give your life to Christ as you are called. 

Catch a vision of God's plan for you, for our church, for the world. Catch a vision, a sense of wonder, at how God calls the world to live together in peace, in unity—each one helping each other. Act on that vision. Trust in that experience, and commit yourself to it. That is salvation, redemption—to know in your heart God loves you. Commit yourself to that knowledge, that experience. Then, wonder turns into wonderful. Shepherds knew the joy because they acted and found the babe as the angels told. The wise men knew the satisfaction, the reward of a completed quest. The star led them; they trusted it and they found the babe, the promise, the hope of the world. 

May wonder turn into wonderful for you!

© 1982 Douglas I. Norris