They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, a face is a picture of the person who wears it. Babies communicate with their parents by their facial expressions. If I raise one eyebrow or curl my lip, you know what I’m thinking.
There’s a song written largely in questions to Mary the Mother of Jesus. It’s called, “Mary Did You Know?” and it gives us the question on which to ponder tonight. The songwriter asks:
Did you know that your Baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God?
Kissing the face of God?! That’s hard for us to comprehend, but think about it. The eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, present-everywhere God confined Himself to a human form like ours. And, like us—He has a face. Jesus’ face gave clues to what He was thinking. It showed when He was happy, surprised, disgusted, sad, angry and fearful. Actually the Bible says a great deal about God’s face. Let’s think about it together.
Does God our Father have a face? Technically, we would say “No,” because God is a spirit, and spirits don’t have bodies like ours. But as soon as I say that, you will remind me that in the Benediction, we say, “The LORD make His face to shine upon you.” When God’s face shines on us, it means God is favoring His people. In the last line of the benediction, I say, “The LORD look upon you with favor and give you peace.” In Exodus 33 Moses asks God to show Moses His face, and God responds, “Nobody can see My face and live.”
So the answer is that we’re not sure if God’s form has a face like ours, because nobody has ever seen Him.
That’s why He sent Jesus as a man—so we could see God and touch God and look at His face without being afraid of death. And that’s just what the disciples did. In his first epistle, St John writes:
This is what we proclaim to you… what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched.
There’s a family who used to belong to Calvary in Whitewater, and I will never forget the first time I came to their house to visit them. They had three kids under five who all climbed up and sat on my lap and they ran their fingers through my beard and all over my face. Their parents were embarrassed and told the kids to stop, but as a grandfather in withdrawal, I thought it was the best welcome I could ever receive! And that sounds like what John is saying—we saw this guy Jesus, we touched Him and we looked at His face.
What did Jesus look like? The Bible doesn’t really tell us, but Isaiah writes, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” That makes it sound like Jesus, the Servant Messiah, was an ordinary looking Palestinian Jewish peasant of His day.
But the disciples saw the happy smile on Jesus’ face when he left Zacchaeus’s house and said, “Today salvation has come to this house!” They saw His face cry tears of sadness for the city of Jerusalem. They observed the stern anger on His face when Jesus said, “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!” They saw His face in anguish as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And the face no follower of Jesus can ever forget is the face bloodied, bruised, sweating, and twisted in pain on the cross of Calvary. At that moment, the face of Jesus didn’t resemble the picture you and I have in our hearts of the Son of God. Instead, it resembled the face of the most hideously evil man who ever lived, the face of the person for whom death is too good. That’s because his painful face resembled the face of a condemned sinner carrying all the world’s sin and evil in His body on the cross.
But there was also love and determination on His face as well. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says:
I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
The face of God, grimacing in agony, is our rescue. But after the face of God’s agony comes the face of God’s triumph! And that’s where your face comes into the picture.
In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet says, “And I will not hide my face anymore from them….” The days are coming soon when the words of Revelation chapter 22 will be true for you and me: God’s people “will see His face, and His name will be upon their foreheads.” Until that day comes, we have God’s glory shone to us, in the face of Jesus, the infant who bears the face of God. His face shine upon your Advent! Amen.