This advent season we are invited to see the movements of grace all around us. The Christian tradition has for two millenia argued that God once took on human flesh and came to earth in the form a crying little infant (forget whatever it says in “Away in a Manger”). And that baby, rather than be born into the sterility of modern medicine’s safe environment, away from all possible threat and rather than be born into the relative security of an imperial power, protected by walls, patrols and money, this baby, Mary’s little Emmanuel, was born in the wild. And as you might expect from the wild, as Mary, his mother courageously gave birth on the floor of a stable, Gods silent creatures in attendance waited to voice their praise.
From the outside the stable, to onlookers both friend and foe, the birth of Christ, the incarnation of the one we call savior, looked like just another first century Jewish baby being born: expect for the part about an unwed mother and wandering family in hiding from the government. Yet, when we look a little closer, when we adjust the focus of our eyes, when we look at it from a slant (to quote Emily Dickinson), we begin to see beyond the outer layer of what is in front of us. What do we see when we stand askance and look beyond the cover of the book? A story packed full of Gods unexpected movements, surprises, wildness and grace. The advent season then is a time to practice this kind of seeing, beyond what we see. As we hang the mistletoe and string the trees with popcorn lets remember to look beyond the artifice and remember that Gods unexpected movements of grace are all around and right before us, we may just have to readjust our focus.