“Behold” is one of my favorite words from the Bible. The wordsmith in me adores words that tickle my ears, words that are uncommon yet descriptive. Behold sounds somewhat archaic yet it still shows up in modern usage. Behold makes me perk up and pay attention.
Simple defined, behold means to see, to gaze upon, to observe, to have vision.
Whenever I find it in the New Testament, I always watch what happens next. Behold is like the sound of the drum roll you hear when the theatre curtain pulls back revealing center stage. Behold is my cue to tune in, to get ready, and see what unfolds.
Behold has been my watchword for Advent and Christmas. See if you recognize these biblical moments:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). [Matthew 1:23]
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” [See Luke 1: 30-32.]
“Behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” [See Luke 1:36-37.]
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” [See Luke 1:38.]
“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [See Luke 2:7-11.]
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [See John 1:29.]
The book of Revelation delights in the Incarnation, God becoming Man: “and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them’… And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” [See Revelation 21: 3, 5.]
Revelation also declares, even now, that a New Advent still waits: “Behold, I am coming soon.” [Revelation 22:7.]
Behold appears in the Bible in 1134 citations (in the Revised Standard Version). Often it is used as a verb, or an interjection, as we have already seen. Behold denotes wonder and surprise. Coupled with the power of the Word of God, behold invites the reader to see something that God is doing: for Scripture transmits the awesome and sublime heart of God even though it is revealed in humble human language.
Behold reminds us that God is working a wonder… a virgin conceives… God is robed in flesh… the barren become fruitful… the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is born in a manger… those condemned by sin are forgiven… the old is made new … Christ is coming again!
Finally, behold reminds me of two smaller verbs: “to be” and ” to hold.” To be is to define existence. To be held is to have or to keep in the hand.
Here’s a little word play to wonder about: What if we were to behold our existence as being held in the hand of God? And similarly, what if we were to behold God as capable of being held in our hand? Is this not our Eucharistic Lord, who comes in ways that we might know the true majesty of God-with-us?
As Advent gives way to Christmas, behold the simple, dynamic, truth as you contemplate this mystery: while the Virgin Mary enfolds the Infant Jesus in her loving arms, he encircles all of us in His.
May you behold the wonder, and be held by the wonder, and believe the wonder that is Emmanuel. Then watch what happens next.
©2008 Patricia W. Gohn