The last few weeks we have been experiencing Christmas through our five senses. We learned a bit about how to hear God’s Word of Christmas through our sense of hearing. We tasted the sweet, sour, bitter, and salty experience of Christmas. Last week we experienced Christmas through our sense of touch and felt the softness, security, and comfort of Jesus within the hardness of the world. This week I would like us to talk about experiencing Christmas through our sense of sight.
We know, of course, that our sense of sight begins with our eyes. Through our eyes we can perceive shapes, distance, movement, color, heat, and depth. About seven years ago, I went completely blind in my left eye from a detached retina. Until the doctor repaired the retina and my body healed, using just that eye the entire world was solid mass of dark grey. There were no shapes, distances, movements, color, heat, or depth. We, therefore, know our sense of sight is incredibly important to us.
As we think about our sense of sight and the Christmas story, we need understand there is a difference, a stark difference, between looking and seeing. You might be thinking to yourself, “Pastor, that seems like there would be little or no distinction between looking and seeing. What is the difference?” Let’s begin with looking. To look at something is to draw attention to something. If I were to say to you, “Look at that!,” I am simply drawing your attention to something so that you might observe an object in my field of view. But if I say to you, “Come and see this,” I am inviting you to go beyond looking. I am inviting you to go deeper, to seek insight and understanding. Seeing something is much different than looking. When we look, we observe only content. When we see, we observe content, we develop insight into context, and we come away with an understanding of relationships. When we look at a bird fly by, we observe the bird. When we find a bird’s nest in a shrub near our home, we might see a baby bird in the nest or an egg or two awaiting to be hatched. We understand the intricate construction of the nest and the anxiousness parental birds nearby. We see content, context, and relationships. Seeing is so much more than looking.
To experience Christmas then through our sense of sight is more about seeing than looking. To experience Christmas through sight is a wonderful gift you can receive and share this Christmas. Let’s take a few minutes and together explore a well know Christmas story with our eyes attuned to what God is unfolding before us to see. I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2, starting at verse 1.
The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke are the only two Gospels that describe any elements of Jesus’ birth and infancy. Today’s account comes well after Jesus birth but, by church tradition, has been folded into the nativity and birth narratives. So, we will just accept that these events happen perhaps as much as two years after Jesus’ birth and see what God has for us.
Matthew began the today’s account with these words, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
What does this part of the story reveal to us? First, we have king Herod. Matthew’s readers saw and knew him as Herod as a cunning, manipulative, paranoid, serial killer. Herod was king because Caesar said he was. By the time of the Magi’s visit, Herod had killed his brother-in-law, his uncle, his wife’s grandfather, his wife, his wife’s mother, and three of his own sons, all to keep his throne as king of the Jews.
So right away, there is a problem in the story. These Magi came and asked the people, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The Magi did not one day saw to one another, “Look at that, there appears to be a new star in the sky!” The Magi raised their eyes to the heaven and saw a new star. In their seeing, they observed when it came, where it appeared in the sky, and they thought about the context of the star. Why did it appear? What did it mean? What was the relationship between the star and world events? The Magi, in seeing, realized a new and special king of the Jews had been born. So special was this king that the Magi, who were Gentiles, non-Jews, had a burning desire to worship this king. Worship is act reserved for God alone. In the Christmas story, the Magi saw the hand of God at work and it filled them with a desire to worship. So, we learn here the difference between looking and seeing. In seeing the handiwork of God, there is a desire to worship Him.
Verse 3 tells us, “When King Herod heard this [news] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” We can understand this sentence now. A murderous, evil, mentally disturbed king had just learned someone who he did not know had been born king of the Jews. Everyone was now a threat to him. No one was safe and so everyone was on edge. We are seeing a broader story unfold before us as we see the contrast between the Magi and Herod over this news. The Magi wanted worship, but Herod was disturbed.
Verse 4 and 5, we find Herod was now seeking bits of information about who this new king might be. He learned through the religious leaders the Messiah, the one anointed by God, of whom the Magi spoke, would come from Bethlehem. He now knows where the birth took place. Then in verse 7, “Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.” Herod seemed to express no previous awareness of the star. He had eyes to perceive shapes, distance, movement, color, heat, and depth but Herod was blind when it came to the movement of God. For him, the movement of God was just a solid wall of dark grey. All Herod knew was where and now he knew when the birth took place; but he still could not see God at work.
In this first Christmas story, we are experiencing through our sense of sight a stark contrast between those who see, discerning the movement of God in their lives and those who are blind to God.
Having set his readers on this visual journey, Matthew accelerates impact of this story on their sense of sight. Beginning in verse 8, Matthew wrote, “He [Herod] sent them [the Magi] to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ 9 After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” This star, this visible light, was like no other star. The Magi were able to observe that the star arose, moved, and stopped. No other people seemed to have seen this star. Other people may have said to one another, “Look at that!” but only the Magi were inspired to said to one another, “Let us come and see what the star, that light, is doing. It is leading us to the king.” The Magi’s destination was not to some general vague understanding of God. It was extremely specific and focused on finding one child, God’s child.
Verse 10, “When they [the Magi] saw the star [when they saw the star had stopped over the house of the child], they were overjoyed.” God’s specific calling card to the Magi, the star, brought them to Jesus, and in finding Him, there was only one emotion, overwhelming joy. In seeing, in properly experiencing Christmas through our sense of sight, God intended for the Magi and us to have one emotion, overwhelmingly joyful. That is what we can experience in seeing the Christmas story.
Now with overwhelming joy, the Magi pressed on. In verse 11, “On coming to the house, they [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” The Magi had found the new king, the child Jesus. Upon recognizing Jesus for who he was, they got on their knees, bowed their heads to the ground, and worshipped Jesus. Worship was why they had come all that way. Worship is the ultimate sign of respect and reverence. Worship is the natural response to overwhelming joy in God. When we see Christmas then we see the content, the context, and the relationship that God is building with us and we experience overwhelming joy and we respond in worship.
How then does seeing the Christmas story help us in our daily life? By seeing we can experience the Gospel message and Jesus with greater clarity.
For as an adult, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). Seeing is not looking. Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Our works done in the name of Christ are not a thing for people to look at or for us to call attention to by saying to others, “Look at me; see what I have done!” Our works of love are a way for people to see the reality of the body of Christ.
One day, near the river Jordan, John the Baptist saw Jesus. John turned to his disciples and said, “See the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard John’s words, they followed Jesus. “Turning around, Jesus saw them [John’s disciples] following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” Jesus said, “Come and you will see.” (John 1:35-38) In seeing Jesus, both men said, “We have found the Messiah.” Those men did not just look at Jesus, they saw him for who he was. The observed his appearance but most importantly they saw his relationship to God and to themselves. And in seeing they shared that good news with others.
Jesus’ words were profound, “Come and you will see.” We too can come to the manger, not to look, but instead see “peace on earth.” We too can come to Bethlehem and see him who’s birth the angels sing. We can come and adore on bending knee, Christ our Lord, the newborn king.
We can come to the house where the child lived, not to look, but instead see the glory of God, king and God and Sacrifice.
We can come to the cross where Jesus died, not to look, but instead see our sins taken away, peace established with God, and God’s love for us.
We can come to the tomb where Jesus lay, not to look, but instead see the truth of Jesus, the life and resurrection promised of God, and the overwhelming joy begun at his birth and celebrated again at his rebirth.
This year let’s not just look at Christmas, let’s see Christmas, experiencing it fully, and then share our overwhelming joy in worship and in share with others the good news of peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Amen and Amen.