A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, December 24, 2017 (AM)
Luke 1:26-38 GNT; Reading from Wonder
“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” R. J. Palacio, Wonder
Little two-year-old Teegan Benson of First Baptist Church White Pine, near Dandridge, just couldn’t help herself when it came to snatching Baby Jesus from the manger bed during the church’s Nativity pageant two weeks ago. Little Teegan was playing the part of a sheep. But Teegan loves baby dolls, and Teegan is fascinated by Baby Jesus. So in the middle of the pageant she decided to grab the Baby Jesus doll from his bed and she started dancing and swaying with it to the choir’s singing of “Away in a Manger.”
Well, three-year-old Collia Weems, who was playing Mary, was quite protective of Baby Jesus, and she jumped up and went and snatched him back and returned him to the manger bed. But Teegan was determined. She ran to the manger bed and snatched the Baby Jesus doll again. And again Mary, or Collia – said to be a stickler for the rules- jumped up and took the Baby Jesus doll back again. By this time the congregation was crying with laughter.
But when the girls got a bit rough and started to wrestle over the doll, an adult stepped in to pull them apart and restore order to the pageant. One of the mothers decided to post the video on her Facebook page, and it went viral. It even ended up on the Good Morning America world news last week.
Aren’t children wonderful! Aren’t all children creations of wonder?
And speaking of children and “wonder,” some months ago one of our members handed me a couple of books and said, “You need to read these.” Now, I often have someone give me a book saying, “You need to read this.” Sometimes what I’m given I connect with, but often I don’t find the same degree of interest in a book that the person who passed it on did. Each of us has his or her unique likes, interests, and tastes when it comes to what we read.
At any rate, I took the books placed in my hands and laid them on a table in my office where all unread books go to rest. There they lay for a couple of weeks – untouched. But it just so happened that our grandson came to visit shortly after that, and as he often does, he accompanied me to the church office. Josiah saw the books lying on my table and he asked, “Where did you get those books?”
“One of my church members loaned them to me and said I needed to read them,” I replied.
“You do need to read them,” Josiah emphatically insisted. So, at the emphatic suggestion of two witnesses, I decided I would read them.
The first and primary book of the series is titled Wonder. It is the story of a little boy named August, but who goes by Auggie, who was born with a severely disfigured face because of a genetic abnormality. This was totally unexpected by Auggie’s parents. When he was born, the attending physician and nurse were physically shaken, and the Baby was whisked from the delivery room before the parents could see him, having no idea what was going on.
Auggie’s mother puts her career on hold to be a stay-at-home Mom to care for and home school Auggie so as to protect him as much as possible from a cold and insensitive world. Auggie endures several surgeries over the years in attempts to alter his facial features so as to make him look as “normal” as possible to others. In order to try to hide from the world, Auggie wears a Star Wars helmet and mask whenever he ventures outside the home on a family outing.
The thing is, Auggie is just like any other kid in every other way – he is very intelligent, he loves Star Wars and playing video games, but the only difference is his facial features are such that anyone who sees him can’t help but stare, feel uncomfortable, and often be very unkind. But the day comes, when Auggie is about 10 years old, when his parents decide he needs to go to school with other children. This means leaving his Star Wars helmet and mask at home. So he is enrolled in the Henry Ward Beecher Prep School.
Auggie’s family is very apprehensive about sending him out into the world, especially his mother. In the beginning, it is extremely difficult; it is bad, as Auggie is shunned, insulted, and has his feelings hurt repeatedly.
I’m not going to tell you any more so as to spoil it for you in case you haven’t read the book or seen the movie. But I will tell you this: you would have to have a heart of stone to watch the movie and not be teary-eyed through much of it. It is a story that will pull at your heartstrings.
It was our grandson Josiah’s request that we all go see the movie the day after Thanksgiving as a family outing. We are so glad we did. In order to fully appreciate the story, you either have to read the book or go see the movie yourself.
But near the end of the book and the movie, Auggie’s mother describes him as a “true Wonder.” Hence, the title of the book and the title of the movie, Wonder.
Well, as both Luke and Matthew tell the story, Jesus, too, was a Child of Wonder, with a capital C and capital W. The Virgin Mary “wondered” what the angel’s words meant concerning the annunciation of Jesus’ conception and birth. All who heard the report of the shepherds “wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:18 KJV).
And then there are the Christmas hymns. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” speaks of the angels keeping “Their watch of wondering love,” and “How silently, how silently, The wondrous gift is given.” Many stories and much myth have been built up around the birth of Jesus, and untold pieces of artwork have been created to portray Baby Jesus as a Child of Wonder, the Child of Wonder par excellence.
But with the birth of Baby Jesus is bound up all the possibilities and good things the world so desperately needs – the potential for peace and love and goodwill and hope for a better world. As the hymn puts it, “The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight” in the birth of Jesus, the Child of Wonder.
And so every Christmas season, we are drawn anew to Jesus’ birth story, with all its miracles and myths that have been wrapped up with it, because his birth becomes the symbol and prototype for every human birth and the hope and potential and possibilities that every birth embodies.
Yes, every time a baby is born, we don’t know if perhaps we are witnessing the birth of another child that will grow up to change the world. There is always the potential and the hope for another Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, or Dorothy Day who will drastically change the world for the better. In every birth there is the hope, the dream, the possibility of another prophet, another great teacher, another wonderful humanitarian. The Baby Jesus in the Manger serves as that iconic birth of all births that embodies all our hopes and dreams and longings for a better world.
So then, as Sophia Lyon Fahs so eloquently put it in that passage that served as today’s responsive reading, “each night a child is born is a holy night – a time for wondering.” And though Jesus’ birth in a manger may be the iconic birth that shines forth and to which we are perennially drawn, his birth also reminds us that every child – including all the Teegans who snatch the Baby Jesus from his manger bed, and all the “Auggies” of the world who don’t fit the mold of what a baby should look like – every child that is born is a “Child of Wonder.” May we recognize them as such. Amen.