Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Face of God (Brief Advent Sermon)

This is a bit premature, as I won't be presenting this until tomorrow night, but here it is anyway.  Otherwise, I'm prone to forget to post it.  The inspiration behind it, if I may use that term, is St. Gregory the Theologian's Oration 38, of which and to whom I am not worthy to hold a candle.  May God be gracious to you during this Advent season.
The Face of God

“No one has seen God at any time…” (John 1:18)

“No one may see My face and live…” (Ex. 33:20)

“And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the might men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the Face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:15-16)

“Woe to me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” (Is. 6:5)

And yet…

“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His Face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.  The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26)

“If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)

“When you said, ‘Seek My Face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your Face, Lord, I will seek.’ Do not hide Your Face from me…” (Ps. 27:8-9a)

There is a dual movement in Scripture, both wonderful and paradoxical: we are made to be face-to-Face with God, yet it is this very Face that strikes in us terror, that undoes us, and is invisible to us.  It is not without purpose that St. Paul says, “The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable Light, whom no man has seen nor can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power.  Amen!” (1 Tim. 6:15-16) Here we seem to be without hope: for how can we see, or seek, or have shine upon us that which seems so far away?

Let us return to the first quote of the night, that from St. John’s Gospel, “No one has seen God at any time…” and finish it: “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”  Our desire, our true end, as human beings is to be in the Presence of God; yet this is impossible for us.  However, Jesus Christ, in His Incarnation, the Word and Image and Son of God become flesh “for us and for our salvation” as the Creed puts it, declares the Father.  He is the Image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the visible One of the invisible One, taking human existence to its highest level so that He will tell His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9)

But there is even more.

Why did God forbid the making of images in the Old Testament?  (Ex. 20:4-6) His Image had not yet been revealed (Deut. 4:15).  Certainly, Adam and Eve were made “in the Image and Likeness of God,” (Gen. 1:26) but through sin instead passed on their own image to their children: “And Adam live on hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Gen. 5:3).  The image of man in Adam could never suffice, since it was a tainted image, one that bore the marks of rebellion and sin and corruption.  All such images could be nothing more than idols, leading us to “exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25). Christ, who as Son of God is the Image of the Invisible Father, has restored in humankind that Image by taking on our flesh, our full human nature, and redeeming it.  Now, as St. Paul says, we can not only look at the glory of God, but be transformed by it: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18)  Christ’s coming in the flesh, as the God-Man, not only reveals God the Father, but also fulfills God’s good purposes to make us look like Him as well: “For who He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the Image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).  When we, being transformed and conformed, are seen by those outside, they are to see the Image who is Christ, we are little images, no longer of Adam, but of Christ, who is the Image of God the Father.  For “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Cor. 15:49).

This season of Advent, we who are unworthy are being invited to see the Face of God in Jesus Christ, the Face that was hidden because of sin and corruption and death.  Let us make haste to join ourselves in union to Christ, to share in His sufferings, to partake of His death, and to be raised from the dead with Him, so that His Face might shine upon us, and we might, reflecting the Light of the World, be a city on a hill, letting our light, the Unapproachable Light of God’s Glory in the Face of Jesus Christ, so shine that those outside might see our good works and glorify, not us, but our Father who is in Heaven (Matt. 5:16).  This Christmas, O Lord, may the words of your prophet be fulfilled in us: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your Name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your Truth” (Ps. 115:1).  Amen.

No comments: