We all have a tendency to be wise after the event, the gift of hindsight being much more common than foresight, especially where our public discourse is concerned. But to reappraise something is not the same as seeing or understanding it for the first time. We all have a store of personal epiphanies — when we ‘discovered’ a poet or a painter or a composer for the first time and the world seemed new-minted, shimmering with fresh glory and beauty. But the occasions when we reconsidered earlier judgements or revised our former opinions are not usually quite so joyous. There is often a reluctance to accept that we may have misjudged someone or been wrong about the consequences of something. Part of us is glad we know the truth, but part of us would still rather hide from it. Seeing aright can be for us a mixed blessing.
I wonder whether the blind men in today’s gospel (Matthew 9.27-31) were prepared for the gift they received. The text implies that they recovered their sight, i.e. they had not always been blind. Did the world look very different from what they remembered? How did they cope with what most of us would regard as sensory overload, being suddenly able to see? As an image of the transformation wrought by grace, it works very well; and we can say that our Advent journey should lead us to a clearer vision. But — and it is an important but — part of me wants to add that I am not wholly convinced by that idea. Most of us muddle along as best we can, neither seeing very clearly nor deliberately hiding from the truth, just hoping that at the end of the journey we shall have made some progress even if we ourselves cannot see it (as, indeed, we cannot). The best we can do is what we can do, not what we can’t; and if God is at all as we believe him to be, he is satisfied with that.
We can take encouragement from today’s first reading (Isaiah 29.17-24). It is easy to lose ourselves in its lyricism, but at its heart is the solemn reminder about hallowing the Holy One of Israel. To hold God’s name holy means more than showing reverence in our worship or trying to live an upright life. It means seeing and understanding something of the purposes of God, not in the crackpot way of some fundamentalist preachers, but as the saints have always seen and understood, owning the mystery and humble in his presence.
I began with a reference to the disconnect we often experience in our public discourse. May I end with a suggestion? If we are trying to open our hearts and minds to whatever it is the Lord wants to teach us this Advent, it must spill over into every aspect of our lives. Our public discourse must be transformed every bit as much as our inner selves. A challenge for today would be to try to think through how we contribute to that public discourse. Do we add to the blindness, prejudice or sheer aggressiveness we encounter or do we defuse the tension, and allow light and healing to flood in? Do we even try?