Monday, November 26, 2012

This Little Light of Mine: oblivious to the obvious

Nothing ruins a perfectly fine day like getting into my car and seeing one of those little lights appear on the dashboard. Particularly a little light I’ve never seen before. In my old VW Beetle they came on so often that I learned to ignore them. On the day my car finally died, my dashboard was lit up like a Christmas tree.

Yes, I realize that there may be a connection between my car's demise and its dashboard crying out to me in living color. So, this time around, with my new Honda Fit, I vowed to do better. Nonetheless, I’ve been driving around for a couple of months now with a (!) light telling me that one of my tires is low on air. I keep filling my tires, but can’t seem to get the (!) light to go away.
Well, last week a new light appeared. It said, “CRUISE MAIN.” I thought that was quite odd because it seemed like it must have something to do with my cruise control, but I don’t have cruise control on this car. I remember when they asked me if I wanted it, I said no. After driving from Charlotte to Cincinnati and back twice over the summer, I also remember regretting that decision. How could I have been so stupid?
Since this little light of mine couldn’t possibly have anything to do with my cruise control, I was baffled.

My friend Bruce is good with cars and often solves my car problems for me. So, he was sitting in the passenger seat when I noticed the “CRUISE MAIN” light was still on and I asked, “Do you have any idea what this means? Is it saying I need cruise maintenance? I don’t know why it would say that since I don’t have cruise control.”

Bruce reached in front of me and pressed a button in the center of my steering wheel. The light went out!
“How did you do that?” I asked.

“You had the cruise control on.”
“But I don’t have cruise control!”

Then I looked down at the steering wheel and there, as plain as day, was a button with the word “CRUISE” on it. Um. I guess I have cruise control.  
Now, I’ve had this car for almost a year. And in all that time, I never once noticed the buttons on my steering wheel. I had no idea they were there. Absolutely no idea.

Then there was the issue of adjusting the digital clock in my car when the time changed. I knew it had something to do with the radio and fiddled around with the buttons whenever I was stopped at a red light, trying every combination I could imagine. “It couldn’t possibly be this difficult,” I thought.
On Saturday I decided to break down and look it up in the instruction manual. It turns out there is supposed to be a button on the radio that has this word under it: “CLOCK.” Well, I looked at the radio, and, sure enough, there it was, C-L-O-C-K.  How had I missed it? Was it some kind of a trick the Japanese had invented to make us poor Americans think we’re going crazy? You know, like they hide the word “CLOCK” on the radio until someone turns to that page in the manual, and suddenly the word magically appears. Was it part of a Japanese conspiracy? 
I can tell you that every time I look at my steering wheel now, the cruise control buttons jump out at me, and when I look at the radio, all I can see is the word “CLOCK.” And it has got me to thinkin’ about how many other obvious things I may be oblivious to, things that are a lot more important than the buttons on my dashboard. Like, people who are hurting, or hungry, or desperate for a friend. I can look past them day after day; they are invisible to me. But then something happens to change that. I’ll have a conversation with them. I’ll read their story. Perhaps I’ll even experience some of their struggle in my own life. And all of a sudden, I see them so clearly that I wonder how I ever could have missed them.

These weeks before Christmas seem to do that for a lot of us, don’t they? We may be able to walk through the rest of the year with our compassion in check, but come December, our eyes are open to seeing the needs of others, really seeing them. 
It’s easy to focus on the commercialization of Christmas and expend our energy wringing our hands, whining, “Ain’t it awful.” There are examples-o-plenty in the world to provide us with ample material for holiday lyrics of lament. What we may miss are the acts of generosity and compassion going on around us, more than at any other time of the year. In fact, once you see it, the goodness of other people shows up in surprising places, over and over again.

Is there a connection between acts of generosity and compassion and the celebration of God’s incarnation on Earth? Certainly, you don’t have to be a Christian to be a loving person. But that’s not really the point, as I see it. It doesn’t have that much to do with who we are and what we do. It is about who God is and what God does. Through the lens of the incarnation, we see ourselves living in a world that God is a part of, a world that God loves. No amount of colored lights, Black Friday sales, or Christmas cheer can obscure it. When I’m no longer oblivious to this, it becomes so obvious to me that it’s all I can see.  


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