A new soldier was on sentry duty at the main gate of a military installation. His orders were clear. No car was to enter unless it had a special sticker on the windshield. A big Army car came up with a general seated in the back. The sentry said, “Halt, who goes there?”
The chauffeur, a corporal, said, “General Wheeler.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t let you through. You’ve got to have a sticker on the windshield.”
The general said to the chauffeur, “Drive on!”
The sentry said, “Hold it! You really can’t come through. If anyone attempts to drive in without a sticker, I have orders to shoot.”
The general barked at the chauffeur, “I’m telling you, son, drive on!”
The sentry walked up to the driver’s window and said quietly to the chauffeur, “I’m new at this. Do I shoot you or the general?”
One article states, “We each have a uniquely valuable perspective on life—a lens through which we interpret our lives. Through our perspective, we define what makes sense to us, which is differentiated from how others see and experience life.” (Source) From the general’s perspective, the world was at his command, and he could do what he wanted regardless of the rule. However, the chauffeur’s perspective was likely considerably different at that moment. The lens through which he was interpreting the situation was the barrel of a gun.
The perspectives we hold are formed by many factors—environment, age, situation, knowledge, etc.—so our perspective is a combination of all these things and is something that is learned over time—according to the article—“Our perspective is arguably the single greatest aspect of our uniqueness.” Our fingerprints are as unique as each individual snowflake, and so are our perspectives.
What’s interesting is when our perspective—the lens through which we view the world—encounters faith. For example, consider St. Peter.
The disciples are crossing the sea in their boat when they see Jesus walking on the water. At first, they are terrified, but then Jesus identifies himself, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Hearing this, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” And we know that Peter had faith, got out of the boat, and walked on the water, but then his perspective changed: “when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’” I firmly believe that Jesus laughed heartily when he said to soaking-wet Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
From his perspective, Peter, a fisherman who grew up working on the water, walking on water was impossible, yet through faith—at least for a few steps—Peter held a different perspective. Through faith, what he perceived to be impossible, was suddenly possible. When he reverted to his original perspective—doubt—he sank, but for those few steps, there was faith.
If it was night and all the lights were out, and these four candles were all the light in the room, some’s perspectives would still only show them darkness even though there was light. They would see shadows in the corners and blackness under and behind objects. Yet others would see the hope of light. Even if the darkness were vast around them, they would see the light as a way forward. And many others would see both. Fear of the dark, but thankful there is at least a little light to keep some of the darkness at bay. You and I are somewhere on that spectrum. It depends on our perspective, but more importantly, it depends on our faith.
We read of Joseph in our Gospel lesson. Mary was found to be with child before they were married. He had not been with her, so he assumed another man had, so he planned to call off the wedding. Joseph was a kind man, but even so, he was not prepared to be with someone who had been unfaithful. Joseph looked around him and saw the dark and the shadows, and then the angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Joseph was shown the light but was his perspective going to change, or would he remain afraid of the dark—what will others say? How can I ever trust her? Was I really only dreaming and so many more shadows? Yet, another variable came to bear when he woke from his sleep: faith. Through faith, his perspective changed, and “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.”
There is a story about a train traveling through the night in a violent rainstorm.
The lightning flashes were almost blinding, the rain hitting the windows was deafening, and the strong gust winds rocked the train from side to side.
The passengers could see the rising water along the tracks when the lightning flashed and lit up the darkness.
The engineer—the driver of the train— was unaware, but the storm and rising water created great terror in the minds of the passengers, so the engineer just kept going.
Several passengers noticed that through all the noise, lightning, and wind, one of the passengers, a little girl, seemed to be at perfect peace.
The adult passengers couldn’t figure out why she was so calm. Finally, one passenger asked her, “How can you be so calm when all the rest of us are so worried about what might happen?”
The girl smiled and said, “My father is the engineer.”
Storms. Lightning. Rising waters. Darkness. Shadows. Death. Fear. “My father is the engineer.” Faith.
Joseph experienced those same fears, that darkness, but when he awoke, he had faith and said in his heart, “My father is the engineer.” Faith changed his perspective.
In the opening verses of his Gospel, St. John wrote, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He—Jesus—was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Jesus, the true Light, came into the world, but many—even though they saw this light—continued to see shadows and darkness all around them. Those with faith received him and became children of God.
I’m not Pollyanna. I am very much aware of the shadows and darkness around us, but we cannot spend our lives dwelling in it. We must, through faith, change our perspective and see this light that has come into the world. It will not eradicate the darkness, but it will show us the way through the dark valley unto the Kingdom of our God… but not just that. It will also show us the way to the Kingdom of our God that is made manifest today, for his name is Emmanuel, which does not mean “God will be with us.” No. His name is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” And His Father is the Engineer.
Let us pray: Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love, and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.
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