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Christmas in One Word: Behold

One of the greatest stage performances ever is, of course, Linus’ reading of Luke 2.8-14 in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Linus seems to have not just memorized the words but internalized them; his tone matches the wonder and majesty of Luke’s prose, and his delivery somehow exults the text while simultaneously positing that his own existence, and that of his fellow players on the stage, is not insignificant.

 

Central to this passage in Luke are the words of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds, which begin: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people” (v 10, ESV). And within this opening line of the angel, I would suggest, is the one word, the one tiny speck of a word, which answers Charlie Brown’s imploring question (what is Christmas all about?): behold.

The Greek word (if you’re into that sort of thing) is idou. In old English it was often translated “lo” (thus our expression, “lo and behold”). Its meaning is simple: look, pay attention. It is used all the time in the Bible–so often, in fact, that some Bible translators apparently find it annoying and unnecessary, and so simply leave it out (see, for example, the NIV).

But it is this jot, this semantic tittle, that holds the heart of God in Christmas. “Look!” says God, “Focus your attention here!” Behold this baby, set your eyes on this nativity, receive this  divine beauty that has come amidst all worldly beauties not so much to shame them but so as to set them kneeling before the King.

For Christmas is the beachhead of God’s victory in this broken world, the initial salvo of God’s campaign to liberate us from all that is untrue, evil, and ugly. This campaign, though, is not militant; God will not overcome through force or compulsion. God overcomes through beauty, the divine beauty of who God is, enacted for the world in the person of Jesus.

And so, God’s Christmas invitation, in a word which cannot be discarded, a tiny word which has the tiny power of this tiny baby: behold.

Beholders we are. Our eyes and spirits are ever searching for beauty, be it the sparse, spurious beauty that populates our magazine covers, or the more enduring expressions in literature, music, and nature. Within this panoply God does not demand, but invites: behold. Behold, my Son. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold this beauty whose power is in weakness, whose victory will come through defeat. Behold, says God, for God knows that we become beholden to that which we behold, and God would have us be beholden to him, and so be transformed.

For when we behold God in Christ we begin to see beauty as God sees beauty. This is of course why Linus and Charlie Brown choose the tree that they do. 55330-Charlie-Brown-Christmas-TreeBeauty is in the eye of the Beholder, the divine beholder, the God who sees us and sees the world that he has made. It is precisely this divine vision, this divine aesthetic, that is revealed in the life of Jesus. Jesus sees those who normally go unseen; he sees beauty in the foreground where others would see only a dull background. Think of the woman with the flow of blood, the woman caught in adultery, the children on his lap, the blue collar fishermen he called to follow him, the crowds who were hungry but had no bread, the heart of the tax collector who climbed a tree to see him, the woman who used an inheritance to anoint his head with oil, the thieves on the crosses beside his. The gospels record the vision of Jesus. Seeing is not believing, but believing is seeing, seeing as God sees, being transformed by the Beholder’s vision of reality.

Will we have the eyes to see as he does? Will we receive this gift? Will we behold?

 

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