My grandparents’ house was magical. The kitchen always smelled like rich country cooking, and a parade of tiny collectible bells lined the living room walls. As a child, I’d stand on my grandmother’s sewing chair and stare at those shiny bells, enchanted by the twinkling reflection of the Christmas tree behind me. The colorful sparkle seemed like a window into another world where everything was bright and beautiful.
Life vibrated with excitement and mystery when I was young, but weariness gradually replaced wonder as I grew up. I used to be breathless with anticipation and joy during the holidays. Now I’m usually just trying to catch my breath. Like many people, I spend most of the Christmas season running from one responsibility to the next, trying to create for my own family the same sense of wonder I had as a child. But something’s missing: The persistent weight of unfulfilled longing hangs on my tired soul.
So this holiday season I’m trying something different. I’m pausing for a few minutes each day to focus on a portion of the Christmas story that often doesn’t receive much attention but offers a glimpse into a reality beyond hurried schedules and endless responsibilities.
Weary of Waiting
Luke’s account of the life of Jesus doesn’t begin with Jesus’ birth — it begins instead with the story of Zechariah, an elderly priest who was tired of waiting. Zechariah had heard promises of Israel’s rescue from oppression and sin his entire life. That future must have seemed out of reach under Rome's harsh control. But Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, also had an unfulfilled personal longing: “They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old” (Luke 1:7, NLT).
One day as Zechariah performed his duties in the Temple, he was chosen to burn incense in the sanctuary — a rare honor with an unexpected result:
While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly” (Luke 1:11-14a, NLT).
God heard Zechariah’s prayer and responded with the astonishing promise of a baby who would both fill his parents’ empty arms, as well as prepare the way for the coming of the Lord and the rescue of God’s people! But Zechariah’s response to the angel was: “… ‘How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years’” (Luke 1:18, NLT).
Zechariah needed a dramatic reminder of God’s power: “Then the angel said, ‘I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time’” (Luke 1:19-20, NLT).
Wonder and Worship
A few months later, Gabriel appeared to Zechariah’s relative, Mary, with an even more startling announcement. The Lord had chosen her — an unmarried young woman from an insignificant town — to give birth to the Messiah who was destined to rescue God’s people. Like Zechariah, Mary initially responded with a question: “But how can this happen? I am a virgin” (Luke 1:34a). However, as Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would cause the baby to grow and he would be the Son of God, Mary’s confusion turned to wonder, and her wonder led to worship.
While Zechariah focused on his circumstances and limitations, Mary concentrated on the God who fulfills his promises. When Mary visited Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with her own miracle, she burst into a jubilant song:
Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever (Luke 1:46b-55, NLT)
This song is called the Magnificat (which is Latin for “magnify”) and it brings God’s greatness into sharp focus. Mary recognized that God’s victory through his Son was already secure, even before Jesus was born. His story was much larger than her questions and fears. God’s character and redemptive plan captured Mary’s full attention and fulfilled every unmet longing in her heart.
Looking For Wonder
When I was a child, imagining a bright and beautiful world within my grandmother’s bells, I didn’t realize that my heart was actually longing for the ultimate restoration of all things. I didn’t know then that the thrill of seeing sparkling lights, hearing soaring music, or enjoying rich food and familiar laughter hinted at the joy contained in God’s epic story. The whole time I’ve been looking for wonder, I’ve actually been looking for God himself.
This Christmas, join me in focusing on the stunning wonder of God and his epic story of restoration through Jesus. When weary, unfulfilled longings dim your hope, look beyond your schedule and responsibilities and echo the sentiments in Mary’s song. Let the Lord fill your full attention with his holiness, mercy, strength, justice and faithfulness. Think about the overwhelming height and depth of his plans and the extent of his work around the world — including the ways he is, through Bible translation, bringing his Word to so many communities who don’t have it in their language yet.
God’s plan is immense and his glory is even bigger. He’s all the beauty and wonder you’ve ever ached to find.
Pause and Look For Wonder
Let wonder replace your weariness as you consider these questions:
- What brought you a sense of wonder when you were younger? How did those things hint at the beauty of God and eternity with him?
- What aspect of God’s character or his plan brings you the most wonder right now? Tell him and others about it!
- What role might God be asking you to play in his epic restoration plan? How can you share the overwhelming wonder of Jesus with others?