By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
Sight is the most divine of our spiritual senses. In the beginning, “God saw all that He had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31), and the human being is created to image God (Genesis 1:26-27). Because we are the only beings created in the image and likeness of God, we possess a unique and innate desire to see, know, and love our maker.
Majestic displays of the Lord’s power, unveiled in various theophanies in the Old Testament, highlight both the utter transcendence of God and His desire to draw near to the only being made for communion with Him. Scripture records many manifestations of the Lord to select individuals, perhaps none more dramatic than the burning bush scene with Moses (Exodus 3). The natural desire to know and love is evident in Moses’ request to see God’s full glory (Exodus 33:18-20) and in the Psalmist’s prayer: “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘Seek His face!’ It is your face, Lord, that I seek; do not hide your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9). Paul asserts that though our vision is dark and imperfect now, perceiving only a mirror’s reflection and not the reality, we will see God face to face and know Him as fully as we can (1 Corinthians 13:12).
John makes the same claim, with Christ as the ultimate satisfaction of our vision of God: “We know that when Christ appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
That confident expectation of our forefathers in faith, however, should give us pause, especially as we prepare for Christmas. Our desires and expectations, after all, are rarely satisfied in the manner we wish them to be. With regard to the birth of Jesus and His subsequent life, “He was in the world, and though the world came to be through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (John 1:10). The almighty God who separated the heavens and the earth, who spoke to Moses by means of a burning bush, who terrified and fascinated Elijah by speaking in a still small whisper, surprises everyone by appearing as a helpless child lying in a manger.
What are we looking for when we say that we want to see God, when we pray that God would reveal himself to us? Our categories of what God should do and be for us so constantly darken our eyes that our most overt displays of piety can easily blind us to the logic of divine love, which has never operated according to social custom or fallen human caprice. Many never realize that the face of God is not a drawing of their own image, of the visage they think God should have to satisfy their desires. Then again, many others have trained themselves to believe that they could not possibly image God due to their tarnished past of sinful selfishness.
Both groups desperately need to retrain their eyes on the manger scene this Christmas. The first group must see in the divine child the infinite humility of our God, and then understand that only the imitation of that form of love can possibly be life-giving. The second group must look upon the infant face of almighty God and accept the joyful fact that He has taken human flesh in order to elevate us beyond our present state of fear and hopelessness. Jesus himself does not speak at the first moments of his coming to earth; he will hardly utter a recorded word, in fact, until he is 30 years old. Yet God has shown his face at that first Christmas in Bethlehem, and we have preferred for too long to hide from that humble radiance behind the idols of our making. The infant Christ, the unspeaking Word of God, bids us hold prayerful vigil at His manger so that we may rephrase the Psalmist’s desire: “Your face, Lord, I do see; let me no longer hide my face from Thee.”
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.