Good Morning. Merry Christmas to all of you! It is good to be back with you. I have the privilege of spending the next two weeks opening God’s word with you.
The Wonder of Christmas
Christmas is coming soon. Christmas is a time of Wonder. In spite of all the glitter and commercialization of Christmas it still retains a sense of Wonder. More for children than with adults – but some of us on occasion sense the wonder of Christmas.
Little children are those who are most caught up with the wonder of Christmas. This little boy looking up the chimney could have been me. I could hardly sleep on Christmas eve. There was excitement. Awe. Expectation. The unknown. All of these contribute to our sense of Wonder.
The Wonder of children
But it is not just Christmas that generates a sense of wonder in children. Children are wonder filled beings. But before we go too far – let’s define what we mean by wonder. Here is one definition that captures wonder.
Wonder is “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.”
Wonder is caused by something that is a combination of Beauty / the Unexpected / the Unfamiliar / the Inexplicable.
For children, wonder comes naturally for them because much in the world is unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Let me give you an example:
Hand regard – Most babies go through a phase in which they are fascinated with their hands. It is called “hand regard.” I remember when our youngest began doing this. They watch their hand intently as they move it in and out of their sight. The hand is unfamiliar, a thing of beauty and its movement inexplicable – in a word – their hand is a wonder.
On Friday I was in a Barber shop and the 9 year old grand-daughter of my barber named Sophia was drawing pictures for the customers. She told me she would draw anything that I wanted. I told her to draw something that brought her wonder. She drew a deep blue sky and then wrote: “I wonder how high the sky goes.”
I loved that. We’ll talk more about the role of questions and wonder later on – but she had no problem coming up with a “Wonder.” The sky. Does the sky still generate wonder for you? If you were to draw a picture of something that causes wonder in you, what would it be?
Adults losing their sense of wonder
If you are like most of us – there is little that brings wonder anymore. We all experience the loss of wonder as we move into adulthood. In some ways this is natural. The unexpected becomes predictable. The unfamiliar becomes familiar and monotonous. The inexplicable becomes explained.
As adults, we follow routines, get stuck in the same patterns of interacting with others and fail to notice simple and pleasurable experiences around us. John Eldredge has said:
We have lost many things as we’ve passed through the battlefields of this war-torn world; our humanity has been stripped of such essential goodness.
One of our greatest losses is the gift of wonder, [which John says is] the doorway into the kingdom heart.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things / many beautiful things that come in unexpected ways. There is a way to be with the familiar that it can still generate wonder. And Lord, You know that there are many wonderful things that are inexplicable. G. K Chesterton said:
“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
In other words, a serious condition for us as adults is the lack of wonder in our lives – not the lack of things / and people / and experiences that are wonders.
Chesterton says it so well I want to read the whole quote:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again;’ and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
I love his words: God is strong enough to exult in monotony. We don’t lose our wonder by experiencing life, but because we have forgotten how to experience life. We have forgotten how to enjoy our enjoyments. We have forgotten how to wonder at wonders.
As Chesterton said earlier – there are no lack of wonders in this world. There is much that is beautiful that is inexplicable. Much that is familiar that can still take our breath away. Our text today can help us take a step towards restoring wonder as it points us to the very creator of and the essence of Wonder. We are looking at another Christmas prophecy from Isaiah – chapter 9 verses 1-7
9 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone. [Quoted by Matthew 4:13 – 14 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:]
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
We are going to concentrate on Verse 6 and mostly just one word today – The coming Messiah – Jesus was going to have the name Wonder. But wait you say – isn’t it “Wonderful Counselor?” We’ll get to that in a minute. But first I want to tell you something that perplexed me for the first time about this incredible prophecy. Why did no one quote this in the New Testament as a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus? Did you ever wonder that? Wonder? How can this be? Such an amazing prophecy.
We don’t know for sure – but here is what I think: Most of the New Testament writers were reading the Septuagint – a Greek translation of the Old Testament written a little before the time of Jesus. Listen how Isaiah 9:6 reads in the Septuagint.
6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him.
The early followers of Jesus were all taught that this was fulfilled by Hezekiah. The government was on his shoulder. He brought peace and showed great wisdom in counsel. Do you see how this text doesn’t sound like it is describing Jesus. Remember this is a translation from the Hebrew and I suspect that the translators had to do something with the words because they sure didn’t sound like Hezekiah or any man the way it read in the Hebrew. So it wasn’t until 70 years later when the early church started reading the Old Testament in the original language that someone discovered this amazing gem – because the Hebrew really reads just as we read it in the ESV this morning: Jesus’ name was going to be “Wonder.”
Ignatius of Antioch 35 ad – 107. Believed to be 2nd or 3rd Bishop of Antioch. He penned 7 letters to churches while being escorted to Rome by 10 soldiers on the charge of “Atheism”. Which means he didn’t believe in the Roman gods. In one of these letters he wrote:
the prophets “also speak of our Lord Jesus Christ. “A Son,” they say, has been given to us, on whose shoulder the government is from above; and His name is called the Angel of great counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, the strong and mighty God.”
He was very clear that Isaiah 9:6-7 is talking about Jesus. Do you notice how he mixes the Septuagint with the Hebrew?
Irenaeus 130-202 AD in his book “Against Heresies” twice refers to Is 9:6 as being fulfilled by Jesus.
I want you to notice that both Ignatius and Irenaeus use Wonderful as a Noun and not as an adjective as it is in the ESV that we read. Jesus is full of Wonder; Jesus is the Counselor – not Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. There are two different names: Wonder and Counselor. That lines up with the Hebrew – because the Hebrew word for Wonder in our text is a noun. There is a verb and adjective form in Hebrew for wonder– but Isaiah uses the noun form here. In all other cases where this noun is used in the Old Testament it literally means Wonder.
So Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus are our two earliest church fathers who recognized the messianic prophecy and Handel (remember that pregnant pause in his oratorio “Wonderful;” “Counselor”) and the King James have it right. Jesus’ Name shall be called: Wonder or Full of Wonder, Counselor. Two separate names.
Now in Hebrew, a name signifies: the Essence / and the Character of a person. So when Isaiah says: For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given, and His name shall be called – He is saying the very essence of this child shall be wonder / Counselor / Mighty God / Everlasting Father / Prince of Peace.
Ways Jesus is a Wonder
So let’s look briefly at how Jesus – in His very essence – is a Wonder.
Incarnation –The first and foremost wonder of Jesus is His incarnation. God became man – if that doesn’t take our breath away in wonder; if that isn’t unexpected; if that isn’t unfamiliar; if that isn’t inexplicable; then we don’t understand why it took the early church 300 years to get a grasp on it theologically. The church spent 300 years wondering what this God come as man meant. The Incarnation is a wonder.
His sinless life – Another wonder is his life. Art Katz was an atheist Jew who converted to Christianity. He knew nothing about Jesus when he first read the life of Jesus in the gospels. When he got to the story of the woman caught in adultery he stopped reading and closed the book when he got to the point where the mob asked what they should do with her: Let her go OR stone her as Moses had commanded. He wondered. How can Jesus get out of this predicament? Art was brilliant but try as he might he couldn’t come up with any way out. Then he re-opened the book and read Jesus’ reply: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And Art sat in Wonder at such a man as Jesus. Listen to his words:
I gasped. … It was numbing and shocking [that’s the unexpected], yet thrilling, because the answer was so utterly perfect [That’s the beauty]. It defied cerebral examination [It was inexplicable]. It cut across every major issue I had ever anguished upon in my life. Truth. Justice. Righteousness. Integrity. [It was unfamiliar] I knew that what I had read transcended human knowledge and comprehension. It had to be divine.”
Shortly thereafter he became a follower of Yeshua. Jesus’ life was a wonder.
Time prohibits me from going into detail about other ways Jesus is a Wonder like:
- His teaching
- His death on the cross for our sins
- His resurrection
- His sending the Spirit
Let’s jump to the application. How can Jesus – whose name is “Wonder” whose very essence is “Wonder” help us restore and cultivate wonder in our life – specifically the wonder embodied in Jesus? John Eldredge again:
Our hearts long to recover a sense of wonder; it is one of the reasons only the child-heart can receive the kingdom.
But how can we recover a sense of wonder? First let me quote one researcher who said that we are learning as we study the brain that “wonder may be the most important cognitive process to nurture.” Researchers now show that asking questions / becoming inquisitive can help restore wonder. That’s what Sophia did. She created a Question. “I wonder how high the Sky goes.”
One of the great saints of the 1500’s St Ignatius of Loyola developed a series of exercises intended to expand our understanding of God and, in the process, invigorate our wonder. One of the exercises encourages us to sit before the cross and then ponder some questions to spur our imagination and create wonder.
Sitting before the manger
I want us to do something similar. I want us to pretend that we are present at the manger in Bethlehem. We are not one of the shepherds or the kings – we are us. Knowing what we know now – but standing before the manger – none-the-less. Search for details that you’d previously ignored because the situation is so familiar. Look for the unfamiliar. Look for the unexpected. Look for the beautiful. Look for the inexplicable. I want us to do this for just a few minutes. And see what questions come to mind. They don’t have to be answerable questions. Wonder is a deep appreciation for the inexplicable / the things we cannot explain. Just let your imagination go and what are you wondering about as you stand before the manger. Everyone understand what we are going to do? I will close our silence in about 2 minutes.
What questions do you have [These are some the congregation came up with]
- I kept thinking about the song “Mary did you know.” I was wondering what Mary knew.
- I kept wondering: “What child is this?”
- Jesus, did you miss Your heavenly Father?
I know this is a busy time – we just scratched the surface here. But lack of wonder is something serious in our lives. Take some time with this exercise over the next two days. See if wonder grows in you. I am praying that it does with all of us.