December 24, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Scripture Reading: Luke2:1-20
As I thought back to Christmases gone by I remembered that one of my favorite gifts was an Alice in Wonderland watch that came in a glass tea cup. Many of my friends that year got a Cinderella watch that came in a glass slipper, but since my favorite book that year was Alice in Wonderland, I got the Alice watch. One of my favorite secular Christmas Songs is Winter Wonderland. So, as I began to prepare a Christmas sermon I spent some time reflecting on wonder.
Wonder, the noun, is defined as a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Wonder is in the eyes of a baby when he or she sees the lights twinkling on a Christmas tree. Wonder is on the faces of children when they discover that the snack that they left out for Santa has been eaten, their once empty stockings filled and the beautiful array of presents around the tree. In fact, for most children, their whole world is viewed through the eyes of wonder. A child makes no judgements of why things are so, but rather a child is in awe of life and views life as it unfolds, moment by moment, with innocence and curiosity. But for many of us, our sense of wonder has been dulled. We lose much of our ability to be awed as we become adults. We equate being smart, educated, and sophisticated with being at least a little cynical. We don’t want to be duped, hood-winked, fooled. We’ve grown up in a scientific age. We want to know what will happen, how it will happen and when it will happen, as if this will give us a sense of control over our lives. We want certainty of how things will work out with our relationships, with our professions, with our finances and with life in general. Our society is one in which we are not comfortable with surprises and things that happen that we don’t understand. Our need to know the outcome is often so strong that we miss the magic of life.
But perhaps the tide has turned. There is evidence that our culture may be changing; moving slowly but surely from a world view drenched in the rational, to one more open to wonder. This summer many of us enjoyed a lecture given by Sy Montgomery where we learned that octopuses could distinguish and remember and feel and express emotion and even have relationships with human beings. In his book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina weaves decades of field observations with scientific discoveries about the brain to challenge the fixed boundaries that we have believed to exist between humans and nonhuman animals. Through stories of animals expressing joy, grief, jealousy, anger and love he points to individual animals having unique personalities and cooperating with each other, sometimes much better than humans, to work out how to survive challenges such as poaching and pervasive drought. Wonder!
Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees: is full of surprises. In it we learn that trees are connected to other trees in a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods; that trees warn each other using chemical signals and electrical impulses not unlike the workings of the human brain. Wohlleben’s book describes how trees can learn, store information and how they cooperate with each other so that nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them in order that that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. Wonder!
The amazing discoveries in so many areas of science may in part be the force that led to the creation of the Large Hadron Collider or LHC. The LHC, the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider in the world was built to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics. In other words, the LHC, the largest, most complex experimental facility ever built at a of cost over $13 billion and with an annual operating budget of about $1 billion is designed to look for what is believed to exist and to prove what is assumed to be happening; a huge and expensive leap into the wonderland of contactable universes, and other dimensions. Wonder.
If researchers, theorists and other who operate most usually from their strong intellects and logic and rely regularly on empirical evidence and measurable outcomes can leap into the unknown and remain there working for years with a sense of wonder as they are confronted with the vastness of what is possible, there is hope, I believe for a world-wide cultural change that will impact all of us.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where having a child-like sense of awe is considered admirable behavior? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our normal every-day stance was one of amazement; that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world? Children generally accept the magic of life; they see and feel it everywhere. Their sense of wonder is an innate quality they are born with and they navigate through their young lives seeing the world as though anything is possible.
A little girl, dressed as an angel, in a Christmas pageant was told to come down the center aisle. The child asked, “Do you want me to walk or fly?” Dressed up with her wings, either seemed equally possible to her.
What happens as we enter adulthood? Where has this sense of wonder and openness to what life will bring gone? What happened to trusting life to show up as it is meant to? What’s this need to know rather than be open to what life is here to show us? In Matthew 18:2-4 Jesus called a child to himself and said that unless we change and become like children, we’ll miss out.
Christmas is the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation. “Incarnate ‘’ means “made manifest” even if not comprehensible. Jesus entered the world to show us that God is not some being out there; but here with us and in us. Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, says that “Christmas is the commitment to life made incarnate. It is the call to see God everywhere and especially in those places we would not expect to find glory and grace. It is the call to exult in life.” Jesus’ whole life was about modeling that the divine is for everyone and respecting each person’s unique relationship with God. But this mystery of the incarnation – that divine spirit is in and all around us is so wondrous that our logical minds are tempted to doubt. Our rational selves miss the signs of divine presence and action all around us.
Life is happening for us, not to us. Life is asking us to approach what is happening with a curiosity and a sense of wonder. How different would our lives be if we approached each event asking ourselves “what does life want to reveal to me at this moment?” “
Socrates said, “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” To walk through life with a sense of wonder means we open up to a higher knowledge that is beyond the physical mind. When we allow ourselves to see the wonder of each moment, by being in the moment we grow in our appreciation. We live more fully. We join with all that is joyous, pure, loving and wonderful in the world. When we show up with a reverence for our lives no matter what has happened in the past, the door of possibilities opens. Our part is to trust, to take action on what we intuitively feel we should do and to approach life full of wonder.
Of the multitude of commercials this Christmas season, several suggest that we give ourselves the gift that we really want. “Go on,” they encourage, “You’re worth it.” This Christmas, let’s, give ourselves permission to reclaim our sense of wonder, to take in a few deep breaths and stand in wonder at the magnificence of life, at the people we meet along the way that impact our lives, at the wonder of creation, and at the miracle of being alive.