Christmas Eve 2023: Field of Vision

In what may seem like a mean
thing to do to Christmas,
I want to hold in contrast
the Information Age
in which we find ourselves in,
and Luke’s sweet baby Jesus story.

The Age of Information,
which I guess replaced the Industrial Age —
and which no one can agree
on whether it has now been replaced itself —
has actually reduced our field of vision
so that our gaze has become stuck
in a crevice
of death and evil.

Now I don’t want to be accused of being a Pollyanna
that denies the presence of human evil in our world,
or the dark side of the human mind.

But the Information Age and its technology
has captured our vision
and focused it like a laser
on the horrific,
the pornographic,
and the darkness
of murderous hearts and demonic minds.
Genocide and violent crime;
chaos, hatred, and bigotry;
economic cannibalism
and environmental disaster;
destruction and woe
in all of its forms,
in every direction,
and our utter impotence
to alter them,
that is the dominate field of vision
of the Information Age.

Why? Because this is the information
that is most lucrative.
This is the crack
into which we are herded
like cows,
and this is the lens
for which we have been fitted.

The Information Age
provides a lens
through which the world
is seen and understood – but this information
is not the world itself,
it is only a lens.
We forget that sometimes,
and after awhile, when we have
been looking through it
for so long we forget
we have that Age of Information lens on.

But increasingly,
our field of vision has narrowed
and our depth of field
become more shallow.
When the primary lens
through which we view
and interpret the world
has as its focus
darkness and death,
impotence, grief, and loss,
then the veil between God and Creation
thickens rather than thins.

None of this is to deny
the reality of human evil
nor doubt the actuality
of the horrifically awful things
we see and hear
as a result
of our information technology.

But a lens that filters
all we see
through a darkened tint
is a lens that reduces our vision
of the other things
that are quietly floating
in the field of vision
around us all the time.

So I am taking this moment
to divert our gaze
to focus instead on a mid-winter story
surrounded by a festival of light
and infused with a passion for gift-giving.

That story we are looking at tonight
is an alternative lens
to the one we normally wear.

That story
we only pick up to look at
about once a year,
is an interpretive lens
through which the world can be known
and through which our lives can be lived
in considerable contrast
to the Age of Information lens.

We forget
that we get to choose
which lens we wear — or at least, which lens
will be our dominant one.

The Information Age lens is slick,
and with AI it is getting slicker all the time.
It is lucrative too,
commercialized
and commoditized
so that we see what
those with financial interests
in our behavior want us to see.
The Information Age lens
is powerful,
all pervasive,
and funneled through
compelling channels
of cynicism and darkness.
The Information Age lens is easy
because it is not only accessible
but everyone else
is looking through it too.
Why be the oddball?
Life is hard enough.

But should we care to take a peek,
this little old Christmas story lens,
is humble to a fault.
It is tinted
by the suggestion that God
is born into a human life
through an oppressed
and marginalized family
who are just trying getting by.
The Christmas lens
sees all that the Information Age lens sees
but here is the difference:
it’s field of vision
is wider
and it’s depth of field
oh so much deeper.

The Christmas story lens
does not have a profit-motive
but rather, is filtered
with prophetic imagination.

The Christmas story lens
sees all there is to see
and then reminds us
that neither terrorism
nor empire,
neither crime
nor abuse of power
are prohibitive to God.

The Christmas Story lens
reminds us that neither cancer
nor cynicism, nor
grief or
hatred
limit the actual
presence of God in our midst.

It is interesting to think about, isn’t it?
This idea that the lens
through which we choose to view,
and also interpret the world,
will also determine what we see
and don’t see,
and what we understand
and what we assume.
It is especially true about the sacred,
and whether or not
we see it
or hold ourselves open
to it’s presence.

It is a quirky idea too.
The acknowledgment that,
conscious of it or not,
we do in fact have a primary lens
and we can choose
which lens we want to be dominant.

Our little Christmas story
is quite small, and yet such a powerful lens.
At this time of life
and in this season of the year,
when the veil between God
and Creation is thinning,
it is the Christmas story
that gives us vision
with which to witness
and see
God’s presence among us.

This lens,
the Christmas story one,
is made of a precious element
called “in-car-na-tion.”
Incarnation allows us to see
the sacred and the holy
infused in the body
of a most unlikely human — an infant no less,
an infant in a nameless family
that has no inheritance
and no stature — nothing actually, a family
with nothing.

But that was only the beginning.
The incarnation lens
allows us to see God,
God-in-the-body —
which is what incarnation
literally means: God-in-the-body.

God, in the body of outsiders —
poor, nation-less immigrants
who flee to Egypt and become asylum-seekers.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Incarnation allows us to see God
in the body
of people we know and love
whose body is wracked with disease
or even slipping away from us.
We get to see God in there, in their bodies.

We get to see God,
if we wear the incarnation lens,
in the bodies of people
we fear
or discount
or ignore.

We get to see God,
if we wear the incarnation lens,
in the body of the planet
in places of immense natural beauty
but also where we have stripped the health
of it down to bedrock.

You see, when we are wearing
the incarnation lens
as our primary lens,
we still see all the death
and destruction
and chaos and disorder
that the Age of Information lens sees,
but we are able to see God
in all of it
and through the thin veil
that stands between us.

Our funny little story
is quite powerful,
rivaling even the Information Age
in its wisdom,
and surpassing it really,
in its power to heal.