Missing the Obvious

images-3One of the things I love about the shepherds in the Christmas story is their ability to spot the obvious.

Think about it – when they heard the angel encourage them to go see the newborn baby, they responded by saying to one another, “Let’s go!” I probably would have tried to figure out if it really was an angel; maybe I would have called a meeting to discuss if angelic appearances are viable, spiritual phenomenon for today; or perhaps I would have exegeted the angel’s announcement so that we really understand what he was saying in his original language; I might have even developed a 15-step action plan for carrying out the angel’s instructions. In some “spiritual” way I would have probably tried to “look deeper.” After all, you can’t fool me! Yeah, right. I would have missed the obvious.

When the shepherds got to the manger, they saw just what they had been told they would see: the face of God – Jesus! It wasn’t a hard sell for the sheep watchers who had just left a concert of angels. It was obvious. Truth was right before their eyes. What they heard was exactly what they saw. That’s pretty plain and simple. Pretty obvious.

Maybe that’s why God first told shepherds: he knew they wouldn’t miss the obvious.

Too often we miss the obvious, don’t we? I do. Sometimes the plainest things, well, I turn them into the hardest things. Why? Because I’m not paying attention.

For instance, just because I’m looking at Julie doesn’t mean I’m seeing Julie. Just because I’m hearing her doesn’t mean I’m listening to her. Believe it or not, there’s a scientific name for missing the obvious: change blindness.

This is a well-documented phenomenon in the area of Cognitive Psychology, and it occurs when large changes in a picture go undetected by the observer because they occur at the same time as a brief visual disruption, such as a blink of the eye or a brief disruption on the screen.

You’ve experienced this when you’ve tried your hand at spotting the differences in two pictures. Each time you move your eyes to the other picture – or blink, or look away – then that slight disruption often causes you to experience “change blindness.” And while you eventually see the 6, 7 or 10 differences, it usually takes a while to overcome change blindness. And if you’re like me, once you’ve spotted all the differences, you can’t believe you missed them in the first place!

[NOTE: Here’s a site where you can read more about Change Blindness and even try your hand (or should I say ‘eyes’) at it: http://www.usd.edu/psyc301/Rensink.htm. I want to warn you, though: once you spot the obvious difference, you’ll laugh. But until you do, you’ll probably be a little frustrated.]

Sometimes I think we experience a spiritual version of Change Blindness – we miss obvious truth! Why? Same reason – we’re not paying attention. This Christmas, let’s pay attention. The Truth in the manger is starring us in the face; don’t miss it. The Good News is being sung in carols everywhere; don’t miss it. His name actually makes up more than 2/3rds of the holiday title – CHRISTmas; don’t miss it!

“This Christmas, Lord, give me the eyes of a shepherd so that I see the obvious.”

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