I Wonder . . .
A Christmas Devotion
by Tim Wesemann
I’ve realized there’s a lot to wonder about as we take our annual journey toward Bethlehem—toward the manger and the Savior lying there.
For instance, I wonder how much persecution Mary and Joseph endured during Mary’s pregnancy. Were the rumors and innuendos floating around the marketplace more popular than the sale price of kosher pickles? Did they spend a great deal of time trying to explain the situation? Did God want them to share the message the angel Gabriel delivered? Did he lead them simply to ignore the comments and questions? When Mary returned to her home after spending three months with her cousin Elizabeth, was she able to stay in Nazareth for the rest of her pregnancy, despite the likely ridicule?
I wonder about the journey to Bethlehem. How large a group traveled with them? What might the trip have been like? Certainly not everyone was rich enough to own a donkey like the one we always see depicted on Christmas cards. Did such a beast carry the burden of their belongings? Scholars familiar with that culture and time period tell us that Mary would not have ridden on a donkey while Joseph walked—incredible as that may seem to us today.
I wonder about the place Jesus was born. We usually call it a stable, since a feeding trough (manger) was present, yet Scripture never mentions a stable. We’ve heard some talk about a cave where locals kept their animals. Many say it was in the back of someone’s home, like an attached garage that served as an animal shelter. What was Jesus’ birthplace really like?
I wonder about Joseph’s role in the birth. It seems so obvious that a handmaiden or a midwife had to help Mary in the birthing process. Was she the first to hold the world’s Savior? As a man, was Joseph allowed anywhere near the birthing area? Was he allowed to help in any way? I wonder.
I wonder about so many aspects surrounding the birth of our Savior. The song “I Wonder as I Wander” comes to mind as I wander, wondering, toward Bethlehem once again this year. Even though I can hum the tune, I can’t remember the words. After looking it up, I not only find a fascinating story that accompanies the song, but I am also reminded of the greatest thing to wonder about this Christmas.
John Jacob Niles wrote both the words and melody, basing it on a line or two of haunting music he heard sung in 1933 by a young girl, Annie Morgan. Annie lived with her family in a small North Carolina town. Annie’s father, a revivalist preacher, was so poor that he and his family camped in the town square for some time. One night, the police insisted they move on. Amidst the turmoil, Annie Morgan began singing a few lines of a song which began, “I wonder as I wander . . .”
Niles coaxed Annie to sing the entire song while he jotted it down in his notebook. He paid her twenty-five cents per performance. After eight tries, Niles could understand only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material, and a magnificent idea! However, the finished song sounded so close to its Appalachian inspiration that Niles is often cited as the tune’s arranger rather than its creator.
As I read the words to the first stanza of the song, I realize the only fact truly worth wondering about as I look into the eyes of the Christ Child lying in a manger. Consider the wonderment in these words:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the 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.
What happened in Bethlehem stirs our curiosity, but all of our contemplation eventually leads to this question: Why would Jesus come from heaven to earth to live and die for people like us?
The miracle of grace is forever the answer!
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