My wife and I recently purchased a large print of Adolph Gottlieb’s painting “Man Looking at Woman” and mounted it on our living room wall. For the time being, we experience the power of the piece each time we see it.
One day, however, this print will become a “given” in our house. We will expect to see it, just as we expect to see the wall on which it hangs, and we will probably react to it with as much feeling as we do to that wall. Which is to say with no feeling whatsoever.
In what amounts to a most unusual paradox, we become blind to the things we see all the time.
While we who call ourselves Christians cannot look at the newborn Savior the same way we do works of art, we nevertheless become so familiar with the story of Jesus that the gift we celebrate each Christmas becomes a given for us. The remarkable incarnation of the Creator sleeping in a feeding trough becomes unremarkable. Even the Jesus who hung on the cross becomes like the paintings that hang on our walls.
How do we see again when we have become blind? How do we hear the Christmas story again for the first time?
Perhaps we first need to pray for new eyes and ears. Then we can devote the ones we already have to studying the Christmas story in depth and with intentionality. We can read translations of Scripture that are new to us—Eugene Peterson’s The Message, for instance—and explore reliable commentaries along with them.
We become blind to the things we see all the time.
Assuming a passive stance and allowing Christmas to simply happen to us will result only in a continuation of the status quo. Each year we must choose to turn our attention to the manger again and say along with the shepherds, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Luke 2:15 NIV).
Jesus does not cease to be a gift merely because we take Him for granted. If we return to the Christmas crèche each December and contemplate the child—creation looking at Creator—we may see and hear the infant anew. We may receive Him all over again, thanking God for the most unusual and precious of all presents.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory