When Elizabeth finds out she’s pregnant with the child we know as John the Baptist, she says, “This is the Lord’s doing…at last he has looked on me, and taken away my public shame” (Luke 1:25*, emphasis added). She feels seen by God.
When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she will be the mother of Jesus, she says, “[God] saw his servant girl in her humility” (Luke 1:49, emphasis added). God.
That’s an interesting parallel. Both of these women say that God sees them.
One can’t help but wonder how unseen these women felt throughout their lives. From what I know about 1st century Judaism, it appears to have had a hard patriarchal hierarchy. Elizabeth is the wife of a priest, but even in that story, Zechariah, her husband, hears about the pregnancy before she does.
Additionally, being childless at her “advanced age” (Luke 1:7) was seen as God withholding a blessing from her.
Mary also felt unseen. Not only is she a woman, but there are indications throughout that she is poor. In her culture (and in some corners of ours), people were thought to be deserving of their wealth, status, and position. Those with wealth were blessed by God. Those without were not.
This Christmas, you too may feel unseen behind the piece of cloth covering your nose and mouth. Maybe you are wondering if God sees you. We wonder if God knows or cares that we’re scared, lonely, and worried about ourselves, our parents, and our children?
The story of Christmas is the story of God seeing us. Elizabeth feels it. Mary feels it. So do a couple of others.
When describing the shepherds, Luke tells us they were “out in the open, keeping a night watch around their flock” (Luke 2:8, emphasis added). I can’t help but wonder if there is a commentary on the religious structure of the day in those words about shepherds wandering around in the dark. Nevertheless, the announcement of Jesus’s birth comes in the dark.
Later in the chapter, when Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple, they are met outside by Simeon who calls Jesus, “A light for the revelation of the nations” (Luke 2:32 , emphasis added).
Clearly, the message is that God sees us. There is a light in the darkness, testified to by outsiders—those who feel like the power structure has placed a barrier between them and God, who wonder if God has forgotten them, who feel more comfortable on the outskirts of town in an open field, who meet us outside the church, but never really venture all the way inside. God sees them.
God sees you!
For Christmas 2020, we may be separated from one another, from church, from the office party, and many other of the traditions and trappings we enjoy. But we are not shut off from Christmas.
The very message of Christmas is there in Mary’s song. God sees us.
Even this Christmas God is with you. God is with me. God is with us.
O come, o come Emmanuel.
*All Scripture quotes are from NT Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation.