I thought that I had seen it all. Having been in and around Christian bookstores most of my life I have seen a lot of strange things in bookstores, but this took the cake. I was standing in our Moorestown store this past Monday night in the kids department and looked up and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a full scale train suspended in the air. This was no ordinary train set either and it was fully functional. It had a multi-car train going around the track with a little bear along for the ride. As I watched this taking place, I was immediately transported back to my childhood when we would shop at Wanamaker’s Department store.
My family lived in the West Indies as missionaries, but once in great while, we were in the Philadelphia area over the Christmas holidays. Wanamaker’s was a required part of our holiday shopping routine and always the highlight of my childhood imagination. Once we had “endured” the light show and seen Santa Claus, I could not wait to get to the toy department. Now I really like toys, but that was not the main reason. Suspended from the ceiling on the 8th floor was a monorail for kids only. That’s right, a real train that went around the roof of the store and was just my size. I could have stayed on that train all day if they had let me. (This train is now located at the Please Touch Museum)
In all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it is easy to forget that most childlike of responses –wonder. It isn’t easy to impress kids these days with all the fancy electronic gadgets they have access to and the devices that answer all their questions. Despite this, the simplicity and majesty of God coming to earth as a little baby in a manger never ceases to amaze. I love watching little kids sitting on their grandparent’s laps as they hear the story for the first time from a beautifully illustrated picture book. Their innocent questions like, “Didn’t it smell bad in the stable?” remind me of the reality of what it must have really been like for our savior coming into this sinful world.
So why put a train in a Christian bookstore? With all the other options for shopping that parents have these days, especially on-line, stores have to create memorable experiences. Whether it is a beautiful window display, a certain fragrance from Christmas candles being lit or the music of a favorite carol, each of the five senses needs to be engaged at some level. One sense that we often don’t discuss is the sense of touch, but it is true that many people like to feel a book or Bible before they buy it. The suspended train touches that sixth sense – wonder and awe. It makes a store just that much more special in the mind of a child (and a few adults too).
As I consider what books to read and to give the Christmas season, I will be considering this question once again for myself. Have I lost a little bit of the awe and wonder of what it meant for God to enter our world in human form? With all of my twenty family members (including lots of children) about to arrive for Christmas in a few weeks, I have a feeling that I might be able to experience that childlike reaction to the greatest story ever told once again. May their innocent eyes transform my degenerating vision and give me a small window into what it must have been like for the shepherds in the stable when they saw that baby for the very first time.