By David Neuen
“An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid.’” (Luke 1:11-13)
This week I was reading a devotional by Vancouver-based pastor Janina Krabbe, who asks, “How long do you look at someone’s face? Not someone you know well or someone to whom you’re listening. But how long do you look when you make eye contact with someone on the bus or at the store? If you’re anything like me, it’s under a second if I can help it. Why do I find it so necessary to look away as soon as possible? Am I afraid?”
To look into the face of another can be an act of acknowledgment, a sensing of beauty, a sharing of delight, a recognizing of the God markings on a fellow member of the human family. And yet awkwardness creeps in if you peer into the eyes of another for too long. Recently, I took part in an exercise requiring me to look loving into the eyes of another person for forty-five seconds. What I found challenging was not seeing but being seen. As the other was looking at me, I became wary of my imperfect skin, disappearing hairline, and droopy smile. I thought, if I look away the other cannot see my imperfections and I will avoid seeing his disapproval of me. Each turn away is nothing more than an act of hiding. Such an act falls into line of the Zechariah’s, and the Mary’s and the shepherds of Christmas who try to disappear in fear.
Yet God in ingenious beauty does not turn away from his children but takes the reverse action by coming to earth to be fully seen and to gaze upon humanity with tender compassion. Rather than drawing away, God draws nearer. Rather than blinking and rushing past, God pauses and peers into our bruises and wounds so mercy and healing can tend there.
Will I courageously look upon the Christ child, not for a second, but for an extended gaze? For how long? Will I allow myself to be fully seen by Christ? Will I allow God to attend my hurts and insufficiencies? And will I look upon others to see Christ being born there? Will I, as Pastor Krabbe writes, “be opened to new possibilities, moved toward just action, spurred toward shalom and hospitality, and inspired to extend welcome, refuge, and belonging to the bearer of Christ in each and every face?” I invite you to look upon Christmas as the Christ, born to us, is looking upon you.