Christmas - A time for seeing
A few years ago, I had the honour of officiating at my sister’s wedding. As I contemplated what to say during the ceremony, I was drawn to the story found in chapter 3 of the Biblical book of Acts.
Peter Heals a Lame Beggar
1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
This story is positioned right after what is commonly referred to as the day of Pentecost. Jesus had been killed and resurrected three days later. After appearing to his followers and spending some quality time with them, he ascended into heaven. However, he did not leave his followers alone but gifted them with his replacement, The Holy Spirit. Growing up in a Christian home I had heard and read this story many times. I always marvelled at the ability of Peter and John to heal a man who was lame from birth. As I read the story again, something else caught my attention. This man sat at the temple gate EVERY DAY at the time of prayer. Strategically placed at the most vantage point as far as begging goes, I imagine people would have walked past him all the time and once in a while thrown a couple of coins in his bowl. No doubt Peter and John had themselves been to the temple and walked past him on many occasions and yet there was something different about this encounter. On this occasion Peter and John were still high on their encounter with Jesus’s replacement and so the way they viewed the world was different. They did something that struck me as the true miracle of this story… They ‘looked straight at him’ and then invited him to ‘look at them’.
In a world characterised primarily by the autonomous individual, it is miraculous when we are able to see others. I implored my sister and her groom on their wedding day to be deliberate about looking at each other and inviting each other to reciprocate that. By actually seeing this man, Peter and John were able to give him a gift that exceeded his expectations. As we approach Christmas I can’t help but notice how commercialised it has become. So many of us are worried about not having enough silver and gold to give others. Some of us spend money we don’t have on people who we care very little for. Many of us spend so we can receive and like the lame beggar in the story we only pay attention ‘expecting to get something’. At this time of the year the shops are full of people perpetuating the idea that Christmas is about giving each other stuff. I wonder how many of us walk straight past the lame and the beggars as we push through the crowds in an effort to purchase those last-minute gifts.
My hope for us all this Christmas is that we may think about the baby who was born on this day, and that we may get something of the high that Peter and John had as they encountered the man at the gate called Beautiful. Maybe something of that high will lead to a miraculous Christmas where we are less concerned about ourselves, less concerned about gifts that wear and tear, and instead take the time to stop and see each other as well as allow ourselves to be seen. Maybe as we truly see each other, we will notice the stress that the year has imposed. We will see the hearts that still feel empty despite having worked so hard in the past year. We may get glimpses into the disappointed hearts from unfulfilled new year’s resolutions. And hopefully as we see these things, we can offer each other our greatest gift, the gift of ourselves. May we realise that what others need more than our silver and gold is simply for us to show up and be present and may we go forth with the conviction that our very presence is a gift enough even without silver and gold.