Dearest Members of Bethlehem,
“I wonder as I wander out under the sky
That Jesus my Savior did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky”
-John Jacob Niles (kind of)
It was 1933. The Great Depression was in full swing, and chill penury cooled many an American heart. These were hard times.
John Jacob Niles had the forethought to wonder; wonder about how the American people might be giving voice to their struggle. John Jacob Niles also had the forethought to wander; wander around Appalachia, listening to, and collecting the folk tunes that were being sung by weary souls.
The Christmas carol that you see above, grew out of one of those experiences. Niles had made his way to an outdoor worship service. A platform had been hauled into place by a car, and it served as a kind of outdoor chancel. This was the stage upon which a young girl began singing and in the process captivated a crowd of weary worshippers.
Niles shared that the girl who sang was exceedingly unclean, dramatically disheveled. Unwashed, her hair hung in startling disarray. Yet, John Jacob Niles admitted, that despite all that, she was, “beautiful.” He also admitted she had an angelic voice. That girl was Annie Morgan and the carol you see above grew out of her memorable open air performance outside of Murphy, North Carolina.
And I’m grateful to both Niles and Morgan for their lasting contribution to the Christmas carol canon. To be perfectly honest with you; wondering and wandering are both absolutely wo/anderful.
Wonder, described as a feeling of “surprise mingled with admiration” is the quintessential description of the Christian religious experience. Wonder is what happens when we have the courage to admit we haven’t “seen it all,” and are still genuinely delighted by the ongoing revelation of God’s glory and goodness in the world.
Wander, described as walking in a, “leisurely, casual, or aimless way,” is the pastime of a person that has been set free. To wander is to “take” the time to explore for the sake of discovery; relishing the journey for its own sake.
The Israelites did it, Mary did it, the shepherds did it, and Paul did it too. Countless Christians, in the toughest of times, have found their way, by the grace of of God.
Yes, simply wondering as we wander will get us to where we need to be, to the right place at the right time. For John Jacob Niles it was Murphy, North Carolina. For us? Well… I guess we’ll see, won’t we?
Question for reflection: If you had the opportunity to wonder as you wander; what would you wonder about and where might you wander off to?
Yours in Christ,
Gracious Lord, stir up your Spirit and come. Allow us to see your light in every glistening decoration; your abundance in every delicious cookie; and have our hope restored every time we pass by a manger scene. Strengthen us in these days for the celebration that is to come. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.