Summary: We tend to see only what we expect to see, and thus at Christmas we do not see the glory and majesty of the Christ child in the homeless, the downtrodden, the ashamed.
They say that "seeing is believing". Well, that depends. That depends on whether you can trust your eyesight. And it depends on whether you have decided to see what is really there or just what you think is there.
"Seeing is believing." It depends on whether you can trust your eyesight. My mother-in-law is suffering from macular degeneration; that means that a small structure in the eyes has declined and her vision is often blurred. She says that one of the greatest frustrations she has is that she cannot read people's faces; she can hear what you are saying, but if you are across the room, she cannot see your face well enough to read your expression. And so she does not feel she really knows what you are saying, even though she can hear the words perfectly. "Seeing is believing" only if you can trust your eyesight to read what is happening.
And seeing is believing, too, only if you see what is really there and not what you think will be there. Optical illusions occur because our minds fill in things that are not really there.
A couple of weeks ago my wife was using a game with some of her students. It was a little like a crossword puzzle: you were supposed to guess a variety of Christmas words from various clues. One of the clues seemed to be nothing more than a printout of the alphabet. What Christmas word would that suggest? What Christmas word would you get from a clue that just read "abcdefghijkmnopqrstuvwxyz"? Did anybody get it? "No L". Noel, No "L", abcdefghijk … m. But the mind tends to fill in what the eye expects to see, or the ear expects to hear.
"Seeing is believing" is true only if you choose to see what is really there, not what you expected to see.
As the apostle Peter neared the end of his life and career, he began to fear that some of Christians were about to lose sight of reality. He began to sense that their central, keystone commitment, their core confession was about to get lost. Peter began to worry that, of all things, these folks were losing sight of who Jesus Christ is.
In the passage I've read for you, Peter speaks about people being "blind" and "shortsighted". He is afraid they will forget some key realities. And so Peter, in a pungent phrase, calls Christians to rivet their attention on exactly who Jesus Christ is and what He is like. Peter insists that when he taught them about Christ, he was teaching no myth, nor was he promoting an optical illusion. Peter insists, on the contrary, that he and his fellow believers were "eyewitnesses of majesty".
Hear the key text again: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. "
"Eyewitnesses of majesty" The trouble is that eyewitnesses don’t always see everything there is to see; the trouble is, too, that even eyewitnesses sometimes see only what they expect to see.
Beneath the tinsel and the golden glow of Christmas there is one and only one central message, and that is Incarnation, enfleshment. The central fact of Christmas is that the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld, we saw, His glory.
And yet, you see, even that central fact, that core confession, gets lost, covered over in the mad scramble to do all of the things Christmas was never designed for. And, as always, the issue is what we choose to see, what we expect to see.
I do not intend this morning to be the Grinch that stole Christmas, but I do have to wonder with you what has happened to the peculiar paradox of Christmas. Is it possible that even believers become blind and shortsighted about who this Jesus really is and what He means? Have we too forgotten what we are looking for?
For example, we seem to have decided that we have to celebrate Christmas worrying about whether we have properly impressed those we love and who love us. Would our spouses and children love us any the less if we did not spend hundreds of dollars to give them things they do not need and have decided they want only because some TV commercial tells them to want it? Where is Jesus in all of that? How does that help us become eyewitnesses of his majesty?
Again, we seem as a nation to have determined that the purpose of Christmas is to stimulate a sagging economy. When the business columns of the newspapers are full of articles describing the tactics of the retailers, who hope to reap as much as 40% of their sales during this season; and when at the same time, charities and churches and mission agencies are starving for funds to do their work …when that happens, we have to wonder, has somebody forgotten that we are eyewitnesses of His majesty? Have we lost sight of the one central truth, the core confession: that Jesus the Christ is God come in human wrappings? You and I seem to prefer to keep the wrappings and throw away the gift!