What makes God visible? That was the question that struck me reading the lectionary passages for this week.
This is one of those rare weeks in which the Episcopal Church (my tradition) varies its readings from the standard Revised Common Lectionary, so I read both the gospel readings from John 1 and Matthew 2:1-12 (Episcopal). Reading both was instructive because both are about God being made visible.
In John 1:18 we read, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” This comes after we are told of the light coming into the world, a light that makes God visible by dwelling with us and making us children of the light with “grace upon grace.”
In Matthew 2:1-12 we read about the wise men from the East who are guided by a star, a sign that leads them to the light of the Christ Child. Here God is made visible through a star that guides the wise men to Him. Herod, who does not see the star, who has not had God made visible to him, has to rely on brutal violence to fight what he cannot see as he kills the children of Bethlehem.
So what makes God visible? Our eyes must be opened; our vision must be corrected so that the blur that we were once unable to comprehend becomes clear. This comes not so much with theological corrective lenses as it does with a community that helps us to see God, a community through which God reveals himself. The teachers of such a community might not be the ones we expect.
Reading the lectionary this week reminded me of a scene from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Nostalghia. The film is a beautiful reflection on homesickness and one of the key characters is a mad man with apocalyptic visions who steers the protagonist toward faith. Toward the end of the film this man makes a speech in a plaza where the insane and crippled and broken have gathered to listen. It is a moving and profound vision of the kingdom of God.
Dominico gives a raving speech, where wisdom mixes with madness. “We must mix the so-called sick with the so-called healthy,” he says. It’s the so-called healthy, he says, who have destroyed the world. “What kind of world is this where a mad man has to tell you to be ashamed of yourselves?”
This is a world where the mad must tell us to be ashamed of ourselves, it is a world where, as Jean Vanier has said, the disabled will heal the “able.”
Throughout advent we have waited for the light to come, for God to be revealed. We are now in the season of Christmas. God has come. God is here. God has been made visible. How will we see him? Where will we see him? Who will show us?