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    Dec 01, 2019

    Wonder of a Star

    Wonder of a Star

    Passage: Matthew 2:2

    Speaker: Vivian McCarthy

    Category: Advent

    The gift of wonder is the ability to be amazed by little things – to see more when other people see less; to be surprised again by the beauty you’ve seen a hundred times, feeling about it the way you did the first time you saw it – and to wonder how life could give you such a marvelous gift. ~Rob Renfroe

    Last week I mentioned that today we would begin a 4-week worship series on wonder – specifically, the wonder of Christmas.  Several months ago I started asking the worship teams how to inspire wonder in the Advent services.  How could we design services to help you feel and experience wonder?                                                                        

    As always, they were very helpful – lots of sharing and thoughts about wonder.

    Just one of those helpful thoughts was that I should read the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  Some of you have read it.  Some of you have seen the movie.  It’s the story of a family dealing with a catastrophic birth/genetic injury to their youngest child resulting in a life-shattering deformity.  The family decides to homeschool the boy, partly to protect him from the slings and arrows of other children, and partly because of the numerous surgeries and recovery periods that would have kept him out of school anyway – 27 surgeries before 5th grade!

    The story begins when Auggie is ready to enter middle school, and Mom and Dad have decided he should begin his journey in school with other kids.  Of course Auggie’s life is fraught with loneliness.  He finds ways to isolate himself for protection.

    It isn’t an exaggeration to say that his 5th grade year was hellish at times, but throughout the year, Auggie found ways to rise above the misery. 

    Spoiler alert!  At the end of the school year during the closing assembly, the principal of the school gave out all of the special awards.  Listen to this excerpt from the book that tells about the final award.

    Mr. Tushman – yes, his name was Tushman, and he taught in a middle school – Mr. Tushman said,

    “The final award this morning is the Henry Ward Beecher medal to honor students who have been notable or exemplary in certain areas throughout the school year.  Typically, this medal has been our way of acknowledging volunteerism or service to the school.”

    [Auggie] immediately figured Charlotte would get this medal because she organized the coat drive this year, so I kind of zoned out a bit again.  I looked at my watch:  10:56.  I was getting hungry for lunch already.

    “…Henry Ward Beecher was, of course, the nineteenth-century abolitionist and fiery sermonizer for human rights – after whom this school was named,” Mr. Tushman was saying when I started paying attention again.

    “While reading up on his life in preparation for this award, I came upon a passage that he wrote that seemed particularly consistent with the themes I touched on earlier, themes I’ve been ruminating upon all year long.  Not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness.  The power of one’s friendship.  The test of one’s character.  The strength of one’s courage—“

    And here the weirdest thing happened:  Mr. Tushman’s voice cracked a bit, like he got all choked up.  He actually cleared his throat and took a big sip of water.  I started paying attention, for real now, to what he was saying.

    “The strength of one’s courage,” he repeated quietly, nodding and smiling.  He held up his right hand like he was counting off.  “Courage.  Kindness.  Friendship.  Character.  These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.  And this is what the Henry Ward Beecher medal is about:  recognizing greatness.

    “But how do we do that?  How do we measure something like greatness?  Again, there’s no yardstick for that kind of thing.  How do we even define it?  Well, Beecher actually had an answer for that.”

    He put his reading glasses on again, leafed through a book, and started to read.  “’Greatness,’ wrote Beecher, ‘lies not in being strong, but in the right using of strength….He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts.”

    And again, out of the blue, he got all choked up.  He put his two index fingers over his mouth for a second before continuing.

    “’He is the greatest,’” he finally continued, “’whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.’  Without further ado, this year I am very proud to award the Henry Ward Beecher medal to the student whose quiet strength has carried up the most hearts.

    “So will August Pullman please come up here to receive this award?”

    Auggie goes up for the medal to a standing ovation.  Then, on the walk home (or in the auditorium in the movie version), Auggie speaks quietly to his mother.

    “Thank you for making me go to school,” [he said.]

    She hugged me close and leaned down and kissed the top of my head.

    “Thank you, Auggie,” she answered softly.

    “For what?”

    “For everything you’ve given us,” she said.  “For coming into our lives.  For being you.”

    She bent down and whispered in my ear.  “You really are a wonder, Auggie.  You are a wonder.”[1]

    A mother and a middle school principal – caught up in the wonder of a child whose life “carried up the most hearts.”

    Not unlike the magi from a foreign land who were drawn by a stunning sight in the sky – drawn by curiosity, perhaps, but whose scientific minds couldn’t rest until they sought an explanation.  Wealthy men of science and reason and status – drawn to the crib of a baby, where they found themselves falling to their knees, seeing more than others saw in that tiny child, recognizing holiness, humbled by the sight – overcome by wonder.


    [1] R. J. Palacio, Wonder, Copyright © 2012 by R. J. Palacio.  Albert A. Knopf, publisher.  Pages 302-304 and 309-310.