What do we see?
When we look out on the world, on people, on the news events that we hear about and read about, what is it that we see?
Certainly we see a lot of fear, destruction, and violence. The world often seems to us a dark and scary place, on the brink of destruction, on the brink of “catastrophic failure”, by its own self-inflicted wounds and tendency to devolve into violence.
The sad and tragic events in Connecticut this past week only further this feeling we have that we live in a world so broken, so crazy, so deplorable.
The very year we’re in, 2012, has drawn many predictions of cataclysmic, “end-of-world” scenarios. There’s even a movie out there, entitled “2012”, about a small group of humans surviving a cataclysmic meteor strike on the earth.
And you’ve likely heard the December 21 prediction of the end of the world on account of the ending of the Mayan calendar. Whether by the earth being sucked in by a black hole, or colliding with another planet or meteor, catastrophic destruction is never too far from our collective imaginations.
That we’ve actually survived this latest prediction doesn’t take away our human tendency to see and imagine the world in frightful, dire terms.
What do you see, when you look out on the world, on the people around you?
In the world of Mary and Elizabeth in the Gospel reading, things weren’t much better. From their point of view, from their perspective, the world was not entirely a friendly place.
Women in general, and unwed, pregnant teenagers in particular, were so thoroughly marginalized, so thoroughly disregarded and looked down upon. Not to mention the fact that they were among the poor.
The world basically did nothing much more than disrespect, sneer at, and take no notice of the likes of Mary, the future Mother of Jesus.
From Mary’s perspective, the world was indeed an un-friendly, even dangerous place.
And yet, something happened, that turned Mary’s world upside down, that changed Mary’s sight and vision. She began to see things differently, not only about herself, but about the world around her.
Not only did she realize, in a profound, life-changing way, that she herself was loveable, of value, and worthy of the highest self-respect and dignity, but also, that some other Person or Entity out there felt the same way about her, holding her in the highest of esteem, value, worthy of love and care.
Who was this “other Person or Entity” out there?
God. The Angel Gabriel had appeared before Mary to announce that, she – of all people! – would be the bearer of God’s salvation to the world, that she would carry the long-awaited-for Messiah, and give birth to the One who’d be able to show humanity the way forward.
With this announcement to Mary, God was handing to Mary the greatest, personal affirmation, the most amazing assurance of Mary’s personal worth and value as a human being, highly regarded by God – which is the biggest stamp of approval and affirmation anyone can receive.
This is why, in the Gospel reading today, we see Mary’s jubilation, Mary’s effusive outburst of joy and praise to God who can turn the world upside-down, who can make all people, regardless of who they are, know their inherent dignity and worth:
“My soul magnifies the Lord” Mary sings, “my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant…he has lifted up the lowly….”
God really sees Mary.
And Mary, maybe even for the first time in a long time, really feels herself as truly seen, and honoured, known and valued.
Author Richard Dahlstrom shared about a time when he visited a friend who was an artist, in her art studio.
She talked about how her students learn to slow down, and really see the objects, however simple, that they were assigned to draw or paint. To really notice and appreciate the angle of light, and the play of light and shadow on something as simple even as a white softball.
The artist held up a simple mug. At first glance, Richard quickly assessed the shape, and gave it a label: a cup.
But the artist encouraged him to really take the time, look at it, and notice everything about it.
And sure enough, focussing on the mug for a few more minutes, he began to see more:
The reflections of light caught by the ceramic finish.
The brilliant transition from light to shadow, and the way that transition was enhanced by the shapely lines of the ceramic texture.
What a difference it makes, just by the different way we look at the very same thing!
He confessed; he wasn’t looking anymore at just a mere container for coffee. He was looking at a work of art.
Each human being is a beautiful work of art.
God helped Mary see that about herself, and see that about all other people around her, especially the “lowly”. If anything, the Christmas story reminds us of how God “lifts up the lowly” by first coming down to the lowly, by taking on human nature, coming to us in the birth of a baby, so that we, “the lowly”, may be “lifted up”, transformed slowly but surely, more and more, into God’s good divine nature.
How do we truly see people around us? Just as someone with a title, a role, a function. As a mere number, a statistic? Pigeon-holing them in a convenient stereotype?
Or are we learning to see ourselves, and others, as God sees us – people with a unique, interesting story, people on a journey, people with inherent beauty and goodness?
For sure, no one is perfect. You and I, everyone, all humans, are faltering, wounded, broken… in different ways.
But God sees beyond, and isn’t fazed by, those “cracks” and imperfections.
The scriptures are so clear about how God’s relentless love for us, is more powerful than anything else.
Just as Mary of long ago did, we can embrace our identity as the beloved of God, and trust that God can take whoever we are, and whatever we do to bring more mercy, justice and love into the world, and bring it to completion in God’s good time and God’s good way.