Over the last few months, I have been glued to a particular TV programme, Heston’s Fantastical Foods. It’s been brilliant. Heston Blumenthal, TV chef, has made it his mission to help us recapture a sense of wonder over food. He maintains many of us lose this as we get older, in a fast food context, food can get a little functional! One of the ways he has sought to accomplish his mission is by making food on a gigantic scale. For example, he made a packet of chocolate digestives so big it was helicoptered into Darwin, where he hosted a giant afternoon tea, with a teapot so big you could live in it. In another episode he made a packet of fruit pastilles as long as a car. Another time he made an ice cream cone as tall as a house. He even made a pub in a pie -a full size, functioning, edible pub, made of pie bricks. What’s not to like? Something about that programme really caught my imagination. I think it has been the theme of wonder. Heston generates this by changing our perspective: the food is enormous and we become little again, and wonder is born. The great thing has been seeing the joy and excitement in the grown men and women (never mind the children) in the various towns where he has done his food projects. It has been delightful to see people coming together in wonder, full of laughter and genuine joy. A real tonic in a world that so often seems jaded, tired and cynical.
The other weekend I was with a close friend who I met years ago when we were both evening staff in the kitchen of a university hall of residence. We bonded whilst attempting to remove welded on soup from the bottom of massive vats night after night. Happy times. Bleeding hands. As we chatted the other weekend, I was saddened to hear my friend make the throwaway comment that she no longer enjoys Christmas, she just goes through the motions. She seems to have lost any sense of wonder or joy. I was surprised to hear this. Even though she will be with her husband and lovely sons, it feels to her like a bit of a palaver, all a bit much, and for what? She used to go to church at Christmas, but that doesn’t happen anymore. My friend has lost a sense of the wonder of Christmas. It’s been mugged by the ‘Holiday season’, and shrink wrapped into a chore. There is no wonder, no joy, no sense of mystery.
What I loved about Heston’s programme is the way he messes with perspective, to help us re- capture a sense of wonder. What I love about the early verses of John’s Gospel is the way he plays with perspective to open us to a wonder a little more profound than giant fruit pastilles.
The first line invites us think big, really really big, to see with a wide angled lens. To see on a massive scale.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God, He was in the beginning with God.
John, you are messing with my head. How can we, mere humans, comprehend the vastness of what you are saying? ‘In the beginning’, at the start of all things was the Word and this Word is God and is with God. All God and yet somehow separate from God. ‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.’ He is the source of all life. He is the light that shines in the darkness, never to be extinguished. Language splits apart as we try to grapple with these ideas.
Then in verse 14, as we are still reeling from John’s dizzying words, he makes a move that is staggering, wild and wonderful. He writes, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. Suddenly, our perspective has to shift. The Word, the creative source of all life, the one who breathed the entire cosmos into existence, is born a child, to a poor couple living in an occupied land, at a specific juncture in history. The playwright of all eternity is born on stage, held in Mary’s arms, taught a carpenter’s trade. God enfleshed in the ordinary. God became local, particular, known and knowable. This perspective shift from God out there, cosmic, unbound by time, to God here with us, in humanity, is so deeply profound. God knows what it is like to be human, to be vulnerable, to love, to suffer, to weep, to know pain, joy, wonder, laughter, rage. God gets under the skin of humanity.
I hope my friend is grasped by a sense of wonder this Christmas. I hope she is given the vision to see beyond the turkey and the twiglets, to know in that deep, deep sense that she is beheld, loved and delighted in by God the Creator, by God with us, by Emmanuel, Jesus the Christ.
I hope this Christmas we will all have that moment, that revelation, when the clouds of busyness, or disbelief, disinterest or tired cynicism are blown away and we receive a deep deep sense of wonder and joy, of celebration and delight, when we know we are known, beheld, loved and invited into the arms of God.