When I hear the word “marvel” these days, my first thought is of superheroes - Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Doctor Strange… it seems like the list has become never-ending and that a new movie based on these beloved old and new comic book heroes comes out almost weekly. My first association with the word is a brand name: Marvel Comics.
The next thing that comes to mind is marvels of the world. These range from places that made the cut onto the list of the Seven Wonders of the World (the Taj Mahal, Petra in Jordan, the Great Wall of China) to places I’ve been (the Grand Canyon, Iguazu Falls, the Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu) to places I dream of going (the Alhambra in Spain, Big Ben in London, the Great Barrier Reef that lies below the oceanic waters of Australia). These marvels may not have superpowers, but they are super massive natural and architectural splendors which consistently leave visitors awestruck and impressed.
Finally, I ponder complexities. The intricacies of the human body, always functioning without our knowledge or will. The criss-crossing of countless people across a great expanse of time that have brought each of us to this present moment, right now. The elaborateness beyond comprehension of a universe that we can only ever know but a micro-sliver of in its entirety. These marvels appear to know no bounds.
And yet, while I do marvel at all of these incredible and mind-boggling occurrences and creations of the world in which we live, I so often forget to marvel at and appreciate the simple things.
I was the youngest in my family (extended family included) for over nineteen years. I have been a part of a very small, close congregation for over twenty years - a congregation in which there weren’t many children for quite some time. In the last three or four years, I’ve been exposed to more babies and toddlers than the combined total of those from the first eighteen or so years of my life. So, I’ve learned a few things:
- Changing diapers can be a horrendous and scarring experience. Show your mom and dad some extra love this Christmas, because, man, they were troopers dealing with your 4,000 plus dirty diapers.
- Toddlers can play house, doctor, vet, dentist, zoo, and any other imagination-friendly game non-stop for four hours. Maybe more. And it will consist of the same scenario being acted out on repeat every two minutes.
- Children are fascinated by simplicity.
While the first two may in fact be true, I want to focus on number three. If you’ve ever been around a child for more than a minute, you’ve witnessed this. Babies will gaze at fans spinning above your head. Toddlers will play with the box a toy came in more than they’ll play with the toy itself. Six-month-olds will pull on necklaces or hair over and over again. Barely-walking tots will giggle uncontrollably every time you puff up your cheeks and cross your eyes.
Kids appreciate simplicity. More than that, it wows them.
The older I get, the more I’m finding that it’s really difficult to be wow-ed by anything, but especially to be wow-ed by simplicity. As a kid, I remember the season of Christmas feeling cozy despite the cold, seeming brighter despite the sun’s shorter appearances, and feeling magical despite all of the “boring” trips to overpacked stores and malls. There was an excitement and anticipation in the air. There was unsaid hope that tingled through my veins and the promise of joys to come.
What happened to Christmas?
The simple answer: I lost sight of what is marvelous and focused on marvel-us.
Christmas used to mean rehearsing Away in a Manger every morning after first recess. It meant memorizing a verse or two from Luke 2 each night. It meant reading Advent devotions with my family by the glowing Christmas tree and admiring the nativity scene set up on top of the piano. It meant proudly proclaiming to friends what the colors and shape of the candy cane represented anytime we were lucky enough to have one as a treat.
Christmas today… it’s come to mean something else. It’s meant making travel plans and arranging rides to the airport. It’s meant Christmas shopping for hours in search of the perfect gifts for everyone. It’s meant stressing late into the nights that turned into mornings as I crammed for finals. It’s meant planning and leading Advent by Candlelight at church, with an emphasis on my To Do list and not on the purpose behind the very event I was arranging.
Christmas as a kid was marvelous because my focus was on the babe in the manger. A simple story we all know. One we hear each year… yet forget to appreciate and recognize as marvelous. What I wouldn’t give for my childlike heart and eyes that were blown away by the grace found on that lowly night in Bethlehem.
During this holiday season, I know it’s easy to get caught in the hustle and bustle. I know it’s natural to focus on the gift-giving, on the dinner menu, and on hosting the “perfect” Christmas with family and loved ones. I know how fast it is to replace what is marvelous with marveling at us. I pray you join me in asking God to help you to not do these things and, therefore, lose your focus on Him.
I urge you to seek the simple joy in the season. I implore you to pause to appreciate all of the blessings - big and small - God is pouring out on you this holiday month and always. I pray you marvel at the simple as a child does - that your eyes are filled with wonder as you revisit the simple story of a simple beginning of a simple boy who would complete a simple sacrifice for you, me, and the rest of the world.
Because even though it may seem like the simplest story, the one you’ve heard time and time again, it’s also the most marvelous. It’s more than a simple story - it’s the Father’s gift of salvation to all.
Just as Mary and Joseph did, we can marvel at that seemingly simple gift found in a baby boy born in Bethlehem.