What are you trained to see that others miss? If you’re trained in art and art history, when you look at a painting you can see color, palette, composition, technique down to the brushstrokes. You can place a painting in its genre and era, maybe assess its importance and value as others pass by without a second glance. If you’re trained in architecture, you see a building very differently from others. If trained in music, sports, mathematics, fashion, horses, dogs, cats…if you choose to spend enough time with another person, when someone asks what you see in that guy, it’s obviously something others have missed.
We’ve all heard the adage that seeing is believing, but the truth is that we can all look at the same thing and see or believe different things about it. Or not see it at all. Some things need to be believed before they can be seen—we have to be prepared to see them, the real significance of them.
Billions of us raised in the Christian tradition have the Christmas story imprinted down to our bones—often imagining ourselves with the magi in awe at the foot of the manger. But the real question Christmas poses is whether we would have joined the magi at all. Would we have seen what they saw? Historically, there were no inns in ancient Bethlehem. The word translated as inn really points to the living space, the platform or second floor where a family slept. So Joseph, trying to lodge at the home of friends or extended family, had to bunk with the animals because there was no room in the living space. Which means that those in that house, those closest to Joseph and Mary saw nothing significant about them. Didn’t make room for them. Didn’t sit with them. Missed what the magi set out to see.
Those who saw something more than a poor infant lying with the household animals, were those who were prepared to see their heart’s desire in a place they least expected. It is always this way. We will always find our God as a child, as the not-fully-formed promise of something more. Are we prepared to see?
Every time we set out to meet our God is Christmas morning.
The babe is in the manger. The star is in the east. And we are the magi.