• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

O Come, Let Us Adore Him–If We Can Stand It

I love the sights of Christmas. My beloved spends considerable time and skill “Christmasing” our home and there is something beautiful to look at almost everywhere. Sculptures of choristers or crèches in each nook; glittering ornaments catching the light in every direction; model villages evoking the longing for a truly peaceful, joyful society; photos of our sons with Santa Claus taken every year but one of the twenty-three years we have had at least one son; and of course our tree laden with commemorative ornaments we have gathered from every place we have traveled or lived.

I love Christmas movies, too–almost too much. We have watched our favourite movies so many times that we recite lines of dialogue as punchlines throughout the year, the way more spiritual families can recite Scripture. (Hmm….)

But you know what I don’t much care to do? Look at the baby Jesus.

If I had been a shepherd or a wise man (students of mine: don’t bother with the easy jokes here, thank you very much), I would have hurried to see the Messiah, the King of the Jews, sure. Amazing!

But having seen him, I likely would have been looking for the door after five minutes or so. “Yes, that sure is a baby and it’s great that Emmanuel has arrived . . . but I wonder if I could borrow your computer to check my e-mail . . . .”

It’s a standard statement in systematic theology that God is invisible. But I’m not so sure God is literally invisible. Some people in the Bible seem to have seen God (Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, John . . .). I wonder if it isn’t that God is invisible so much as that we can’t see him, which isn’t the same thing.

Paul says he “dwells in unapproachable light.” God is too hard for us to look at, too bright, too dazzling, even painfully so. So God is invisible the way a brigher version of the  sun would be invisible. We need better, much better eyes with which to see him.

(Some of you are thinking of the Narnia Chronicles and C. S. Lewis’s depiction of his heroes gaining stronger and stronger eyes as they race toward Aslan’s Kingdom. C. S. Lewis was right again.)

Paul also tells us to let our mind’s eye, so to speak, spend time on “what is true, what is honorable, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely” (Phil. 4:8). In fact, he tells us to “dwell on” such things.

But I confess to a very limited attention span in that regard. To be sure, I can watch good, and even not-so-good, Hollywood movies for a couple of hours at a stretch quite easily. Yet I generally can’t look at the Bible that long, or Christian poetry, or paintings of Christ (even the best ones), let alone sit in a chair or kneel on the floor and just dwell on whatever comes to my mind as I try to meditate on what is truly excellent, truly of God.

Our last son is halfway through teenhood and each week or so we debate what movies are appropriate to watch. He’ll sometimes say about objectionable material what is perhaps what teenagers typically say to their parents: “Papa, it won’t bother me. I’m used to that.”

And I think, and sometimes say, “But you shouldn’t be used to that! It should bother you.” And I wonder about my parenting, of course, and I then try desperately to think of a way to blame my wife instead. (I haven’t found a way to do that yet.)

Dante’s Divine Comedy concludes with the beatific vision: a giant Rose Bowl of heavenly spectators gazing forever in adoration of the Trinity. You know what? It sounds completely boring to me, particularly given Dante’s geometricized portrayal of God as so many interweaving spheres. It’s kind of a groovy light show, I guess, but after a while, it pales.

I’m not sure, however, what alternative portrayal of God would hold my attention much longer. I do love God and I serve him as best I can. I am grateful to be adopted by him and I gladly talk about him to anyone who will listen. I just don’t want to stop and enjoy God’s beauty, and I generally don’t. I have books to read and TV to watch and the Internet to surf.

I have sung “O Come, Let Us Adore Him” for almost fifty years now. But I still don’t do it much, this adoring thing. I can’t really stand it. Can you?