December 2023
Spiritual formation
Advent Reading 1: What Eyes Can See

An Advent reading from the collection "Christmas Glory"

My eyes are getting worse. I remember it every year when I look at our Christmas tree, gleaming gold with little amber stars, singing its quiet anthem into the dark of the room. I stare at the tree every year without my glasses on as a reminder that the world is blurring with time. My eyes see less. Every line of light is melting. I imagine what it will be like one day to be blind, to see only shadows, to dream of color in knife-sharp contours, to take in not just more light but more definition.

This all may sound depressing for Advent season, but I write with a smile on my face. We’re all fading floral. Some of us have enough color in our petals and vigor in our stem to pretend that death is a dream. Others of us are more aware of mortality. But the truth is truth for all of us. And what I stare at in my mind’s eye each Christmas is what lies behind the blindness, something my eyes can’t currently see. But my heart can see it, clear as a Pennsylvania hillside on a cold December morning.

What is it? It’s hard to describe. Imagine a golden afternoon, where warm light is pouring in through the windows, and you’re sitting contentedly on a couch, strangely aware that this particular afternoon will never end. You will be able to talk casually with God himself, holed up in your living room with an old afghan on his lap. Friends and family enter the room and raise their cheeks, showing their teeth in silence. The quiet, unending community . . . that is what my heart sees. Christmas is a memorial for warm-blooded, unending communion

Christmas is a memorial for warm-blooded, unending communion.

I wonder what you see this year, from your living room. There’s a way to look through the room, to take off your glasses and let the lines blur. You will see more in a sense, not less.

The old shepherds, gathering around the rough-hewn timber of a commoner’s manger on that starry night, likely didn’t see everything with 20-15 vision. Eyeglasses, after all, didn’t appear on the pages of human history until thirteenth century Italy, donning the noses of quiet monks. These shepherds surely saw light, though the lines and textures of what they saw may have been blurred a bit. But that was not the point of the evening. 

They beheld in that little stable a person who was light beyond light, the light behind all lights. That infant light didn’t burn like the fiery sun, fierce and blinding, assaulting their retinas. No . . . it burned quiet, long, and slow, bright enough for them to know that something was different. Something had changed. The infant drew their souls in like moths. It captivated with its quiet; it beckoned with its shallow breaths, soft and simple, like the raising and lowering of a monarch’s wings at the end of migration.

And it was a migration. God had come south to stay, down from the unsearchable northern Alps of divinity. He had come from a place so far above us that not even a craning neck stood a chance of perceiving it on the horizon. God had come in his tribe of three: Son from Father by Spirit. He had come at the end of an evening, but he had come to make evening unending. He had come to cast communion down on us like starlight. 

God had come south to stay, down from the unsearchable northern Alps of divinity.

This is what I think of each year when I stare, bleary-eyed, at our Christmas tree, gazing at the green and gold without my glasses on. So what if the lines are blurred and the colors are melting together? The real beauty is behind all that. The real beauty is the unending afternoon of fellowship with God and his great afghan. The real beauty is what eyes cannot see. Except you can see it, if you pull your glasses off, maybe even shut your eyes, and let your heart stare at the warm hope of communion. Christmas is a time for staring.

More Advent readings await in Christmas Glory

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