All day long we see thousands of things: trees, buildings, cars, our family, coworkers, images on the television or computer. Our eyes help us appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. They help us get to where we want to go, and they help keep us from crashing into things or falling down the stairs along the way—all because of the countless things we see.
When Mary asks us, “Do you see what I see?” she is asking us something different. She is asking if we are looking beyond the obvious so that we can see with spiritual insight. And she is joining St. Paul in praying for us: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). So let’s explore how our eyes can be opened in this new and powerful way this Advent.
Seeing “Inside” the Block of Marble. In 1497, the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères de Lagraulas approached a young artist named Michelangelo and asked him to create a statue that would grace the cardinal’s tomb when he died. “Create the most beautiful work of marble in Rome,” he said, “one that no living artist could better.” Michelangelo agreed and travelled to the city of Carrara, long known for its beautiful marble deposits, and obtained the most “perfect” block of marble he had ever used.
Long before he started to chip away at the marble, Michelangelo already had a picture in his mind of what the finished product would look like. It was said that he actually saw his sculpture—the famous Pietà—already embedded in the marble. He could look at the marble and see something that nobody else could see, something graceful and beautiful, something that would lift people’s hearts to heaven.
This is how the Holy Spirit wants us to look at the Christmas scenes that will grace our homes and churches this month. Just as the shepherds and Mary and Joseph could see more than just a baby with a cute smile and just as Michelangelo could see his Pietà in a block of marble, so too the Spirit wants to help us see Jesus as our Savior, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
“Where God Is Born . . .” In his annual Christmas address to the city of Rome in 2015, Pope Francis told the people, “Where God is born, hope is born. . . . Where God is born, peace is born. . . . Where God is born, mercy flourishes” (Urbi et Orbi, 2015). Clearly, he wasn’t speaking only about the manger where Jesus was born. He was also speaking about every place where God is born: every human heart that embraces him and his message.
On Christmas Day, Jesus was born in the manger, and he was also born in the hearts of the shepherds. As a result, they found a deeper hope for their lives. The Messiah had come! A new age was dawning—the age of God’s redemption! Their future wasn’t limited to tending sheep; it now included the fulfillment of God’s promises in their very day and age. The hope embodied in that message filled their hearts with rejoicing.
Mary and Joseph also had their eyes opened in new ways. Of course they were relieved that their Son was born safe and sound despite his surroundings. Yes, they were happy that he was healthy and that Mary survived the birth—something not always guaranteed in those days.
But imagine the even deeper peace they must have felt when they saw that the promises made to them by the angel had come true. Imagine how reassuring it must have been to hear the shepherds’ story and then to be visited a few days later by the Magi. Each event helped them see more deeply, and what they saw told them that God had come to save his people.
The same can be true for us. Every day presents us with a new opportunity to let Jesus be born in our hearts. Every day presents us with new ways to find the Lord’s peace, his hope, and his mercy in our hearts and in the world around us. At the same time, every day presents us with numerous opportunities to share this peace, hope, and mercy with the people in our lives.
Hope Is Born. Isn’t it interesting that for all the opportunities we have to find our hope in the Lord, we seem to find just as many opportunities to let frustration and despair overshadow our hearts? Especially when we see the degree of violence, anger, and division in the world, hope seems to slip away. How can we look to the future with any sense of promise or eager expectation when we see such darkness?
This is why it’s important for us to remember that hope is not something we are supposed to drum up on our own. It’s a gift from God—one of the three greatest gifts, in fact (1 Corinthians 13:13). It’s a special virtue that God gave us when we were baptized. And as Paul says, it is a gift that lasts. It’s a virtue that has never left our hearts.
Hope is the gift that helps us look beyond whatever challenges we are facing and trust that God is with us, walking by our side. Hope is the gift that allows us to look at the darkness in the world and still see God’s presence and his desire to bring good out of evil. It is the gift that assures us of God’s love, despite our sins and failings. In short, hope is the gift that helps us to rejoice in the Lord—always.
Always remember that hope dwells in your heart. This gift is already there, waiting for you to take hold of it. You can do this by reminding yourself of God’s goodness and his mercy. Keep telling yourself, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Never forget that the One who is in you can give you “everything else” along with hope (Romans 8:32).
Peace Is Born. We all know that there are different kinds of peace. There is the peace that comes when everything is working as we want it to. But that peace can be fragile. The moment things begin to go wrong, our peace begins to dissipate, and frustration and anxiety increase. But there is also the peace that Jesus offers. This is the peace that remains with us even when we are facing challenges and difficulties. It’s the peace that tells us Christ is with us even if we can’t feel his presence. It’s the peace of knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). And today, he says the same thing. “Pray for peace. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Strive to keep your peace in every situation. Ask me to help you.”
Being at peace is not meant only for the quiet of Christmas Eve or the joy of Christmas Day. It’s a decision that we can make every day. Instead of saying, “I can’t help it” or “This is more than I can handle,” we can learn to say, “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13). If we begin every day, saying, “Lord, help me to hold my peace today no matter what comes at me,” we will find a greater ability to remain calm day after day—because Jesus will honor our prayer and help us.
Mercy Flourishes. When Pope Francis opened the Year of Mercy in 2015, he told us, “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. . . . The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”
Mercy is, plain and simple, at the very heart of Jesus’ mission. It was to show us God’s mercy that he was born into this world. The angel confirmed this when he told Joseph that Mary’s child would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Every day that he walked the earth, Jesus treated everyone with the kindness and compassion that are at the heart of mercy, and he commanded us to do the same. In fact, he warned us that the degree to which we forgive one another is the degree to which we will experience his mercy flowing in our lives (6:14-15).
Sometimes showing mercy is difficult or impossible. Jesus knows this. He understands that the hurts of life can cause deep wounds in our hearts. Nonetheless, he is asking us to work toward forgiveness, one step at a time—and he promises to be with us every step of the way.
Come and See. Hope. Peace. Mercy. These precious gifts come to us when Jesus is born in our hearts. These gifts also grow in us as we spend time pondering Jesus and his gift of salvation. They grow and deepen as we try to see what Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the Magi saw. They take a greater hold of our lives as we look closely at the manger, just as Michelangelo looked at that block of marble and saw his beautiful Pietà. These are the greatest gifts we could receive this Christmas. They are the greatest gifts we could ever receive at any time.
So come to the manger this Advent. Come and see what these ancient saints saw. And let that vision fill your heart.