So what makes it so difficult for us to see clearly?  Why couldn’t the “priests and Levites” see that which was right before them?

The answer lies in the Gospel writer’s description of the “priests and Levites.” They were people who came to John the Baptist because

they had been sent from the Pharisees (John 1:24).

They have not come on their own behalf.  They have not come seeking wisdom or truth. They come with an agenda.  They have something to defend.

When John the Baptist begins to explain to these religious officials who he is, they question his authority to baptize, saying,

Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? (John 1:25)

Their problem is that John the Baptist does not fit the framework of their traditions.  And they cannot accept anything that does not fit their traditions.  Jesus refuses to fit comfortably within the framework of anyone’s traditions.  Jesus explodes tradition bursting into the world with a light and a power that can never be held by any human container.

Rowan Williams, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury wrote about the function of the curtain in the ancient Jewish temple of Jerusalem.  He pointed out that the curtain in the temple served to remind people of separation from God and that Jesus came to tear apart any hint of separation.  The Archbishop went on to suggest that often we like to create curtains where Jesus has torn them aside.  Williams wrote,

Human beings will put surprising amounts of energy into avoiding the reality of God.

Then he went on to issue a quite remarkable challenge, especially when you consider that these words came from a man who, when he wrote them, was the highest official in worldwide Anglicanism.  Rowan Williams wrote,

And here is the uncomfortable challenge: how much of the energy of the Church and of each one of us is devoted to curtain-making?

What kinds of barriers might we be creating that make it difficult for us and for others to perceive the presence of the One who stands among us?

John the Baptist said we should

Make straight the way of the Lord.  (John 1:23)

That is, we should remove any obstacles to the awareness of God’s presence in our lives and in the world.  We should tear down the walls, remove the barriers, open to the consciousness of God’s presence everywhere.

There is a slightly sombre tone that is intended to characterize this Advent season.  Advent reminds us that, if we are going to fully welcome the light to whom John the Baptist bears witness, we must be willing to face within ourselves any obstacles that might exist to our perceiving that light.  That is what this season is about.  This season is about acknowledging any obstacles in our lives that might hinder our awareness of the presence to which this season testifies.

Christmas means simply that God is with us.

Jesus’ Christmas name is Immanuel, “God with us.”  There is a Presence that permeates all existence.  Our hearts desire to know that Presence.  There is nothing else we want.  Only that Presence can satisfy our deepest longings and enable us to live the lives we were created to live.

Open to the Presence that is with us always.  Open to the divine light and truth of God that fills the world and lives in our lives. This Presence is the one present for which our hearts most deeply long.