Wonder and Awe is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This gift used to be called "Fear of the Lord," but that doesn't really convey the meaning of the gift. Although Fear of the Lord does not mean the trembling, shaking knees, clammy hands type of fear, still, calling this gift anything involving the word "fear" means that you have to immediately remind yourself that in this case "fear" refers to fear of disappointing or letting someone - in this case God - down. It's not a call to be afraid. Yet, that still doesn't convey the same thing as simply calling the gift "Wonder and Awe."
We know what it means to have Wonder and Awe. It means you are just swept away in an overwhelming sense of being caught up in something bigger, more wonderful, and simply amazing than you know what to do with. It is a vision or a moment that takes your breath away. You remember that moment for ever, because it makes such an impression on your senses and your heart. For the rest of your life, you can recall that moment as though it stands apart from the normal stream of life. If in this moment of Wonder and Awe, you are struck with the sense of the presence of God, this moment will forever be etched in your memory and may even change your life's direction. There is actually a specific word we use to talk about this kind of moment -"theophany." A theophany is a moment when God is made manifest in the life of a person.
Scripture records several of these moments, many around the Christmas story. One such moment occurs, for example, when the 3 wise men arrive at the stable of the Holy Family. The painting above does a great job of visually imagining what that moment must have been like, the moment when the 3 travelers gazed upon the infant Jesus and knew they were looking on the face of God.
The Gospel of Matthew records the Wonder and Awe they must have felt:
"And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.10They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way." (Matthew 2:9-12)
Although the writer does not tell us what the Magi are thinking, we know from their actions that this one moment has changed them forever. Before their theophany, their encounter with God, the 3 Kings sought out the high places of respect in the land. They went directly to King Herod, for example, and demanded an audience with him. Then they boldly asked "Where is the newborn King of the Jews?" This is a strange question to ask of the present King!
After they look upon Jesus, however, they are content to simply slip out the back door, as it were, and return home without fanfare. They have left their expensive, extravagant gifts behind and become men who believe in dreams. They have found what they were seeking, an encounter with the living God of the Jews. This is the gift of Wonder and Awe. It is a life-changing, momentous experience of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever had a theophany? Where do you see God in the silence and stillness of winter, now that the lights and rush of Christmas is finished?