For Christians, the calendar year is punctuated by important feasts and celebrated events, and we are fast approaching one of our greatest and most popular: Christmas. A standard joke in clergy circles is that we will see people in church on Christmas Eve who complain about having to sing the same hymn every time they come to church. Yes, we have to admit, we did sing Silent Night the last time they were here to worship… a year ago!
Why do so many people reserve worship attendance for just the one or two holiest days of the year? We once came across an article by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor (Christian Century Magazine, January 2004) that suggested a possible explanation. Maybe, Taylor proposed, people are reluctant to attend worship because they feel they are asked to believe something they simply cannot believe, or because they are asked not to believe something they actually do believe. Aligning beliefs becomes the sticky point. But, significant as believing may be, believing doesn’t have to be an insurmountable barrier to faith’s exploration or even to worship, Taylor says, because believing, after all, may be secondary to a more basic and fundamental exercise of faith: beholding.
When you think of it, our willingness to behold a thing always precedes our ability to believe it, or understand it, or appreciate it. That must be why, according to some counts, the command to “behold!” occurs some 1275 times in the Bible, while the command to “believe!” has only 131 mentions. The first sharing of the Christmas message some two thousand years ago on a Judean hillside begins with a hearty exclamation from an angel calling out to a group of frightened shepherds, “Behold!”
Maybe beholding is always the overture to faith. It all starts when we sit up and take notice of truly important matters. Beholding, you see, is more than casual observance. Beholding involves looking deeply into the heart of things. It takes a little practice and a little insight, but beholding yields extraordinary results. Beholding helps us to rightly acknowledge the wonders in our very midst.
What might we behold today? Behold – that we should be loved by our families, knowing what they do about us, this is a marvelous! Behold – that tenacious hope springs up again and again to sustain us through hardships, this is wondrous! Behold – that among all the stars and all the distant planets, life should have emerged on this blue and green earth, and that we should have been born to share in it together, and that we might claim the love of a God whose concern for us is so profound that God came to dwell right here among us, this is miraculous!
There may always be mysteries we cannot explain and unanswered questions that challenge us, but nothing prevents our stopping to watch, to listen, to ponder, as a prelude to framing our beliefs. Take a look around. Behold.