Viewing the gift of Christmas with fresh eyes

| Jonathan Liedl | December 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

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A few summers ago, Andy Grammer’s “Fresh Eyes” was a popular hit on Twin Cities radio stations. With lyrics like “It’s human nature / to miss what’s under your nose,” the catchy pop tune was an ode to looking at what one already has with “fresh eyes,” transforming the routine and mundane into a gift to be cherished and appreciated.

Grammer wrote the song specifically about his wife, but I think we can apply its insight to other persons in our lives. Perhaps there’s a co-worker or a sibling who a change in perspective would help us to appreciate more. In my own case, being abroad in Rome has helped me to see friends and family back in Minnesota with a newfound gratitude.

But one person we can always hope to see with “fresh eyes” is Jesus Christ.

Precisely because who Jesus is and what he’s done and does for us is so unfathomably good, so beyond the pale of anything we could have ever expected, he is probably the easiest person to underappreciate. Because of our creaturely limitations, we often reduce his message and mission to our own human logic and expectations, instead of accepting him on his own terms. Often unintentionally, we tend to treat the reality of Jesus Christ as something “too good to be true,” and settle for a lesser, more manageable version of him.

The forces of secularity, which want to tell us that Jesus was merely a wise teacher or a social reformer instead of God-made-man, certainly contribute to our failure to appreciate him in our lives. But even if we’re practicing our Catholic faith, there is always the danger of taking Jesus for granted. The crucifixes that commonly adorn our Catholic spaces can be visual reminders of God’s incredible sacrifice for us, but they can also render the wondrous love of the Cross as something expected and innocuous, incapable of moving us if we lack the right perspective.

Therefore, it’s not merely enough to profess our love for and belief in Jesus. We also regularly need to remind ourselves of just who exactly this Jesus is whom we love and believe in.

Advent is the perfect time for this kind of renewal. Just as married couples in need of a spark are encouraged to go back to the origins of their love, Advent is an annual opportunity to break the spell of complacency by returning to man’s original encounter with Christ. By changing our perspective in this way, we can rescue the radicality of Christ and the Gospel from our tendencies to make them commonplace, viewed as they are after 2,000 years of Christianity.

Similar to how the Jewish faith’s insistence that man was made “in the image and likeness of God” went completely beyond the accounts of other ancient Near East religions, which largely viewed human beings as slaves to the gods, the coming of Christ wildly exceeded man’s greatest expectations. True, the Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah. But he was commonly expected to be a kind of worldly savior, expelling the Romans from Jerusalem and reestablishing the Davidic monarchy. Who he was instead — the God of all the universe humbly coming in human form to live among, serve, and even die for his creatures so that they could become divinized and enjoy eternal unity with him in the Father’s house — could never have been fully anticipated by mankind. Though Jesus fulfills the longings of the human heart, until he came and revealed himself to us, we weren’t even sure what we were longing for.

‘Tis the season to rediscover this truth with wonder and gratitude. Through holy Scripture, the Lord has provided us with several sets of “fresh eyes” that we can adopt to see it all more clearly: the Blessed Mother, whose “fiat” at the Annunciation is all the more extraordinary precisely because the Lord’s proposal was so unexpected; St. John the Baptist, whose encounter with Christ in utero led him to spend his life joyfully in ascetic solitude and preparation for Christ’s coming; and St. Joseph, who, according to St. Jerome and others, sought to divorce Mary quietly because he knew she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and knew himself to be unworthy.

In these last few days of Advent, let’s ask Jesus to remind us who he truly is, so that we may more fully and faithfully appreciate him on Christmas Day and beyond.

Liedl is a seminarian in formation for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

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Category: To Home From Rome