Every Christmas, I remember the Christmas when I was six. I’ve written about it, preached about it and told the story over and over to whoever would listen. The season is enhanced by the re-telling of our stories.
That year, for the Christmas Eve midnight live nativity, my mom was Mary and my dad was Joseph.. They borrowed my Madam Alexander doll, Victoria, to play baby Jesus.
Victoria was not just a doll. She was my child. She looked like a real baby and was the size of a newborn. I took her everywhere. Several times, at the grocery store mostly, people mistook her for a real baby. This pleased my six year old self immensely. To me, she was a real baby.
The Christmas Eve worship service began at 11 p.m. with the telling of the Christmas story interspersed with the singing of carols. At just a few minutes before midnight, we lit real candles, walked outside and down the path to the live nativity.
Everything converged to make it a surreal experience. Being up that late was unimaginable to me (it kind of still is). Being alone in a church service was different. I’m sure my brother and other adults were with me but without my parents, it seemed like I was alone. Being given a real candle, aflame, was something that never had happened to me before.
The night was dark and very cold. We walked silently to the stable and took in all who were there…still, quiet, but real, breathing, moving a little. My mom and dad, holding Victoria, staring at her with love. The shepherds, wise men, angels all looking on. I think there was a real sheep or donkey or maybe both.
I still remember the wonder that washed over me and the awe I felt. I remember shivering from what I was feeling inside and from the cold but not wanting to leave.
It realized, in a way that changed me, that God came to us, real people like us. God came to real people like my mom, dad and me.
Later, in seminary, I learned this was the theological concept of incarnation, God with us. I’ve spent my life living into the mystery and wonder of that concept.
Recently, I’ve been reading that wonder or awe...reverence for all things is at the center of the spiritual life. From it comes, love, surrender and gratitude. Gary Zukav in The Seat of the Soul writes reverence is a holy perception, a perception of the soul. When the personality is aligned with the soul, it cannot perceive Life except with reverence.
At six, I had my first taste of spiritual wonder.
I hope I never stop feeling the awe, mystery and reverence of it.
The little girl is grown up now, may she stay a woman of wonder.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa/Mocha to Pace and Keller, breast cancer survivor. In some ways she’s still a six year old, shivering at the manger, holding her candle, unable to take her eyes away from the wonder of it all.