Through the Eyes of the Infant
This is one of the most beautiful nights of the year. We gather here to listen to this ancient story and we see the stable in our mind’s eye: Mary robed in blue looking peaceful and serene, Joseph standing by worried and protective, and the baby lying in a manger, fat and smiling and wrapped in sparkling white clothes.
We have little children in our family now, including a brand new baby. When F… arrived last month, his was a well-attended birth in a spotlessly clean place with expert medical care to ensure his safe arrival. There were no shepherds who came to visit, at least as far as I know, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the angels were singing because his birth was no less a miracle then the one we celebrate tonight.
Our new baby’s cousin just turned two years old. She has been hearing stories about the baby Jesus and paying close attention to these accounts of the young woman who brought forth her first-born son. W… has put two and two together and has come to the conclusion that new baby boy in our family must be the baby Jesus.
It is a sweet little confusion, isn’t it? Or at least that was my first reaction. But the more I’ve thought about it, I am reminded of the words of the palmist, “out of the mouths of babes and infants.” I think the two-year-old is on to something.
Just as Jesus was the son of God, the child of God, so is every baby born into this world. Every child is holy, and every child lays claim to our love and care just as the baby Jesus does. We are all made in the image of God, after all, and that godliness can seem stronger and clearer when we are fresh and new. Somehow as the years pile up, we make mistakes, act unkindly, live selfishly, we sin, and it becomes harder to see the image of God in each other. But it is still present – in all of us – no matter how young or how old. We are all children of God, with a holy DNA that shapes who we are and how we are to live. In this sense, W… is right about her new-born cousin. And it is true for all the rest of us too. We aren’t Jesus, but we are created to be Christ-like.
Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if we lived as though this were really true. It would change our behavior, I think, it would change everything, because we would all want to be seen as good and holy in the eyes of the infant and we would all see the world through that infant’s eyes.
There is an old story about a poor monastery somewhere, struggling to survive. No one was interested in being a monk anymore and there were only five old men left, trying to carry on and hold things together. At his wit’s end, one day the leader of the monastery, Brother David, went to visit the wise man who lived in the forest. He told his sad tale of the once beautiful monastery, with many brothers tending to the poor and doing good works – now falling down and about to come to an end. He begged the wise man for advice. But the wise old man had no easy answer to give. Instead he said to the old monk: “The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."
Brother David returned to the monastery without the help they had hoped for. He told his brothers what the wise old man had said, but none of them could figure out what it meant. “The Messiah is one of you.” So they went on with their daily business, doing the best they could, but they kept wondering about this. How could the Messiah be one of them? And if it was true, then which one?
It couldn’t be Brother Peter, could it? He was always in a bad mood before he had his second cup of coffee. It couldn’t be Brother James; he was forever falling asleep during prayers. It certainly wasn’t Brother John who would often go for a walk and get so distracted he would forget to do his work, which annoyed all the others. And Brother Luke scorched the oatmeal every single morning; he meant well but he just wasn’t very attentive. He didn’t seem likely to be the Messiah. And Brother David was a good and holy man, yes, but he was very, very old and that didn’t seem like one that God would choose to be the Messiah.
On the other hand, the monks had lived faithful and prayerful lives for a long time, and they knew that God often does surprising things. They knew that God could work through grumpy folks and distracted folks, and those who were tired or old or slow or inattentive. Maybe, just maybe, one of them really was the Messiah.
A curious thing began to happen at the old monastery. The way they saw each other and even the way they saw their own selves began to change. They began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off-off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
The whole place changed. Nearby neighbors and travelers from far away who stopped to rest at the monastery saw the change. Something special was happening and people began to want to be part of it. New brothers joined the old ones, the monastery grew, and its good works were a blessing to all. And all because they saw themselves and each other as the Messiah, as Christ-like, all because they saw through the eyes of the infant.
I do not know how the Messiah is present here tonight, but I do know that Christ is among us and within us and we, too, are God’s own children.
So this Christmas, may we see the world through the eyes of the infant, looking on each other as Jesus did, with compassion and love and forgiveness. And may we remember that we are all precious are in God’s eyes, even with our own faults and failings. Because just as the baby was born in the stable all those years ago, so Jesus still comes in the midst of the dirt and decay, the muck and mess of our own lives, looks on us with love, and watches over us all our days.
And when we see with the eyes of the infant, when we love as Jesus did, and live as the children of God that we are, we can change the world. And that is the true beauty of Christmas.