If you want to know whether it’s Christmas or not, go to www.isitchristmas.com. There you’ll find a one-word answer. For 364 days of each year, that answer is “NO.” On just one day, it’s “YES.” Try it.
Small children are adorable partly because they are constantly experiencing new things, and their sense of wonder and excitement is contagious. It’s why many of us are energized being around them. We can vicariously experience their breath-abated joy of discovery. It’s all new!
But come to think of it, why don’t we as adults experience that same sense of wonder? Why isn’t it all new to us, all the time? Isn’t our own existence, and the existence of everything and everyone around us, in fact astonishing? Imagine the next mundane experience of your life as if it were not mundane. Imagine instead that you are experiencing it in the first moment after blinking into existence, from nothing. Our existence is a miracle. The existence of everything around us is astonishing. All of matter is a subject of breath-taking curiosity, as scientists sometimes remind us. And all of that exists inside this extra dimension we call “time.” What is time? Why does it seem to go in one direction, marking out a seamless and continuous dynamism to that astonishing physical reality?
The philosopher Richard Taylor put forward a thought experiment to illustrate the strangeness of there being something, rather than nothing. A man walks into the woods and finds a large, translucent sphere. He wonders how it came to be there. It’s strange. It’s out of place. How could it be? But wait. Why would he not think the same thing of the trees and soil and rocks around him in the forest? There is no difference in the strangeness of being, as between those things and the sphere. The man is merely inured to the existence of one, and not of the other. It is good to pause and become a bit unsettled at the fact of existence, to begin a course of reflection on eternal truths. That moment is available to all of us. It is, in David Bentley Hart’s phrase, a “primordial agitation of the mind.”
If you had a childhood that included happy memories of Christmas, you might recall that frustrated tension welling up over the long hours or days preceding Christmas morning – that utter conviction that “I can’t wait!” It may have even seemed a little unfair, somehow, that it only came once a year. Would it be so bad to have it monthly? Weekly? A year seems forever to a child.
And yet, that long wait sets it up as an event which returns us to a sense of wonder, much like the translucent ball in Taylor’s illustration. Even after having lived long enough to celebrate many Christmases, the day returns to us a little bit of that sense of wonder; of exhilaration. This year, let’s consider where that sense of wonder comes from. What awakens in us that sense of childlike delight? Why do we wake up on this one day, every year, in the dead of winter, with a sense that all is made new?
Because it is. Because in the beginning, God.