If You Saw the Face of God and Love

Let me ask you a question, just for fun. What do Justin Trudeau, Alexander Trudeau his brother, Annie Lennox, Jimmy Buffet, Humphrey Bogart, Ryan Seacrest, Ava Gardner, Sissy Spacek, and Ricky Martin have in common?

They were all born on Christmas Day.

What’s even more interesting, is that this face makes them a decidedly rare group.

And why is that, pray tell? Because research shows that fewer babies are born on Christmas Day––in North America that is––than on any other day of the year . . . (The day when most babies are born on our continent? September 9, for some reason. At least according to the last 25 years of statistics.)

Whatever the case, they share a birthday––at least as tradition would have it––with the Lord Jesus Himself, the rarest Baby of All, the like of whom had never been seen before. Why? Because he was, God very God, born in the flesh; and “Lord,”––as the Rev. John Freeman Young put it, who translated the words of Silent Night from German into English––“at his birth.”

When was the last time you held a baby in your arms? Yesterday? Last week? Months ago? Years ago? [an audible sigh was just heard from all the Moms and GrandMoms, in the land we call “the Internet!”] It’s an extraordinary experience. Among other things, it’s easier to gaze into the eyes of a baby than any other living person. For most people, we feel absolutely no shame or embarrassment. And the intimacy is extraordinary.

One thing I always remember about my Dad, now long gone, was that he could never quite look us in the eye; we his children. If he ever took us by the hand to say goodbye, i.e. with a handshake, he always turned his head away in doing so. And if he ever spoke to us––which he usually left to my mother––it was always while looking down, or looking away. It always seemed to be painfully uncomfortable for him.

Was he a bad person? No he wasn’t. It was just hard for him to share this kind of intimacy;––this kind of connection––with us, his children . . . We were never disdainful, nor disrespectful; that in allowing us to draw close to him he would only be met with contempt. Yet he could never quite look us in the eye. But hand my Dad a baby, and he was off to the races!! I kid you not!!! He would rest that child on his lap and talk to him––or her––and tickle him; and laugh with him; all the while looking him directly in the eye, all of which I found charming to watch.

You would think he had never had children before!!

I know this for a fact because I witnessed it many times; my parents often babysitting the four children of my much-older first cousin when I was a teenager; all of whom we quite young at the time; at first babies, and then very young children.

They say that among other things, babies learn the skill of facial recognition, very early––and no wonder. And one of the earliest people those children grew to know and love, next to their own parents––and grandparents––was my father.

Indeed, the face-to-face intimacy that grows up between parents and children, and caregivers and children, can be instantaneous, and profound. And research shows that this sort of deeply-connected face-to-face relationship is what tends to gift (or underwrite) psychological health to or for a child, for the rest of his or her life.

“My child, I loved you from the very start . . .” writes a Mom, about nurturing her child.
“You stole my breath; you embraced my heart.
When our life together had just begun
I knew you were part of me, my little one.
Each day we grew together, my precious child,
my mind was filled with thoughts of you.

I dreamt of the things we’d very soon share––
Late-night bottles, and Teddy bears.
Bedtime stories, and A-B-C’s.
Leaps and bounds and knocking knees.

I thought of things we would learn together,
How birds fly, puppies frolic, and flowers grow . . .

I thought of lessons I’d need to share,
Like standing tall, and playing fair.

When I first saw your precious face,
I prayed your life, be touched with grace.
I thanked the angels from above,
And promised you, unending love.

Each night I lay you down to sleep,
I gently kissed your head and cheek.
I counted your fingers, and your toes;
I memorized your eyes and nose.
I lingered at your nursery door,
In awe, each day, I loved you more.”

A little sentimental, perhaps, but it’s not far from the mark.

Last week I told you, that in no uncertain terms, that God loves you.

And how does God love you? Abstractly??? As if God were discharging some sort of metaphysical law or principle? “Yes, I love humanity. I created them; I love them, as a matter of principle. . . . ” Nope.

At arm’s length??? As he needed to remain unsullied or unbesmirched. “Yes, I love you, but just stay from me.” Nope.

As if God found loving humanity painful and off-putting? “Ewwww, human beings, they’re so distasteful.” Nope.

As if it were his sworn duty, nothing more? “ Hmmmm…. Yes…. I promised to love them;

Well, ya know, so I’d better keep my word. Nope.

No, God loves you passionately. Deeply. Intimately. Sacrificially! Forwardly! As a father or mother loves his child, and more!!! He has put his money where his mouth is, and laid down his life for you, in the person of Christ. “Greater love has no one than this,” the Lord Jesus said, “to lay down one's life for one's friends.” God did this.

“On the day you were born your cord was not cut,” reads Ezekiel the prophet, at chapter 16, “nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised . . .

Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you I saw that you were old enough for love. So I spread the corner of my garment over you. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.”

God plucked you from the ground, and wrapped you round with the garments of his love.

He set you on the path of life; that you should live and not die; prosper, and not perish.

He promised to walk with you, every day, and meet you, and speak to you, as it were, face to face.

And yet we come to God we are somehow, ruled by fear, with crippled by shame.

Fear. It’s one of those great and terrible four-letter words that haunt the English language, and with it the whole substance of being human. Not the fear––“of God”––which the Bible commends as the “beginning of wisdom.” By which is meant a deep and deferential respect and love, but something we might otherwise describe as a kind of shame . . . ; What one dictionary describes as––and I quote––“a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.” The Oxford English Dictionary is even more pointed. Shame. “The feeling of humiliation excited by the consciousness of one’s own guilt or shortcoming, of having made oneself, or been made ridiculous, or of having offended against propriety, modesty, or decency.”

Indeed, when some people get up the courage to approach God; it’s all shame, from top to bottom, tip to toe. No wonder many of us seem to have this strange “love-hate relationship” with our heavenly Father. We want to know him, to walk with him, to live for him, but something always seems to stop us like a roadblock of the spirit. God comes to us, but we cannot look him in the face, so we look down, or look away. We are afraid, and ashamed.

In 1988, the pop psychologist John Buchanan wrote a now-famous book which took things a step further. It was called Healing the Shame that Binds You, and introduced the whole notion of “toxic shame.”

“Toxic shame feels much worse than guilt,” he writes. “With guilt, you've done something wrong; but you can repair that––you can do something about it. With toxic shame there's something wrong with you and there's nothing you can do about it; you are inadequate and defective.” “Childhood fears are all too real,” writes Diane Dowgiert . . . “fear of embarrassment, failure, abandonment, rejection; the fear of being hurt, or lonely, or afraid; the fear of change beyond our ability to control; or the fear of total annihilation.

I remember suffering shame as a child, as if it were only yesterday. I’ll never forget reading a hand-out in grade 3, as a class. It was about the start of the new baseball season. Certain children were called upon to read out loud, of which I was one. My turn being finished, I turned to my neighbor to point out to him that the new baseball season being described actually began on the same day as my birthday, which I thought a point worthy of special note!!! But someone else was still reading . . .

My teacher, having observed this conversation out of the corner of her eye, immediately called me to the front of the room. I was mortified. There I stood in front of everyone, rooted to the floor. “And what was so important that you had to talk while someone else was trying to read?” she said, with crushing sarcasm. “Huh? I couldn’t reply to her question. “Go back to your place, and never do that again.”

I was absolutely paralyzed with shame. All I could do was look down. I remember staring at the floor, red-faced, humiliated. Not having gotten anything out of me, she dismissed me back to my place. It took me a long, long time to get over that.

The paralysis of shame. Being unable to look up. Being unable to talk, or walk, or move, even with God. For some people it’s a whole way of life. But it’s time to put that shame away. It’s time.

Why? Because God loves you, God loves you more deeply than you can ever imagine. And God wants to walk with you, and talk with you, and fill your life with hope. And God wants to connect to you, face-to-face, as a parent would a child; or a bosom friend, a bosom friend.

This morning we read the story of one of the many times Moses dared to meet God, walk with God, and talk with God, fear notwithstanding. Moses, it is said, set up what he called a Tent of Meeting, some distance from the camp of Israel.

“Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp,” reads Exodus 33. “And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”

“Face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” What a concept! Could we ever do that? Having a relationship with God is one of the richest things we could ever do? Be open to God as to the deepest of friends? So why don’t we? Why do some people come to church for time out of mind. And yet there’s almost nothing going on between them and God? When you meet such people you assume that they simply don’t care about God. But could it be, that they’re simply too afraid.

As you know the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe––the first children’s book by C. S. Lewis ever wrote––has now been made into a feature film––a very good one, I might add––and one I think you should really see, if for no other reason to make it easier for you when I next quote from it!!! In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe four English children who are drawn through a wardrobe into another world. A world called Narnia.

There they meet a great and noble lion, Aslan. He is, as they discover, a Christ-figure. Here is the scene in which they first encounter him face to face. Having longed to meet him from the moment they enter into Narnia, they are strangely afraid at the same time.

“Aslan stood in the centre of a crowd of creatures who had grouped themselves round him in the shape of a half-moon. There were Tree-Women and Well-Women (Dryads and Naiads as they used to be called in our world) who had stringed instruments and were making music. They were four great centaurs. The horse part of them was like huge English farm horses, and the man part was like stern but beautiful giants. There was also a unicorn, and a bull with the head of a man, and a pelican, and an eagle, and a great Dog. And next to Aslan stood two leopards of whom one carried his crown and the other his standard.

But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.

‘Go on,’ whispered Mr. Beaver.

‘No,’ whispered Peter, ‘you first.’

‘No, Sons of Adam before animals,’ whispered Mr. Beaver back again.

‘Susan,’ whispered Peter, ‘what about you? Ladies first.’

‘No, you’re the eldest,’ whispered Susan. And of course the longer they went on doing this the more awkward they felt. Then at last Peter realized that it was up to him. He drew his sword and raised it to the salute and hastily saying to the others ‘Come on. Pull yourselves together,’ he advanced toward the Lion and said.

‘We have come, Aslan.’

‘Welcome, Peter, Son of Adam,’ said Aslan. ‘Welcome Susan and Lucy, daughters of Eve. Welcome he-beaver and she-beaver.’

His voice was deep and rich and somehow took the fidgets out of them. They now felt glad and quiet and it didn’t seem awkward to them to stand and say nothing.”

You see, God’s voice is deep and rich; always has been, always will be. It will somehow take the fidgets out of you. You will feel glad and quiet. No longer will it seem awkward to you to stand and say nothing.”

After all, God loves you. Moreover, if you dare to come into the presence of God, he will lift your face, so that you will be able to speak to him, to encounter him; to love him, face to face, as a man speaks to his friend, or a mother her child. A new intimacy will dawn for you, as never before. A new richness, and beauty, and sheer delight.

But you have to pull yourself together, step forward, and come to God, as Peter did.

Exodus 33 goes on to record the substance of one such conversation, between God very God, and Moses, whose abject face God had not only lifted; but whose abject life God had filled with love:

Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, `I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

New flash, dear people. God wants to lift your head. He wants to talk to you face to face.

God wants to give you his presence, and with it, his very rest. Indeed, God will even show you his glory. He wants you to have the kind of shining faces which Moms and tots exchange with each other, entirely without fear.

After all, God loves you, more deeply than you will ever know.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

Then the LORD said,

“There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.

When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

God showed Moses, suddenly, in an instant, who he really was. And in a profound sense Moses did encounter God “face to face,” causing the face and clothing of Moses to shine, as Jesus’ would at the Transfiguration.

Remember the CBS’ program Touched by an Angel?? The highlight of each episode was that scene where the angels, each having assumed human form, revealed who they really were.

At that moment, of course, they actually begin to glow with light, for they are heavenly beings, whose native home is the presence of God.

When the angels appeared the shepherds at the birth of Jesus, they were obviously heavenly beings, and shone with light, literally!! Hence the shepherds’ fear.

But how did the angels, pray tell, respond? “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid . . . for behold, we bring you good news of great joy. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, is a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” You see us, dear shepherds, we who are angels, as we are.

Our message? God loves you.

Therefore, do not be afraid. Things aren’t always what they seem. You have been seeking the Christ-child: and the news from here, is good; the news is very good . . . . .

Do you often feel afraid? Afraid of what’s coming down the road? Do you wonder, How much longer is the Covid thing going to grind on? How much longer? What’s going to happen next, unless things change?

Don’t be afraid. Look upon God, as Moses did. And see him for who he really is. He is radiant every way: radiant with love, radiant with goodness, radiant with power, radiant with faithfulness.

The African-American songstress Tracy Chapman poses this whole issue in a song. A very challenging song. It goes like this:

If you knew that you would die today,
Saw the face of God and love,
Would you change? Would you change?

If you knew that love can break your heart
When you’re down so low you cannot fall
Would you change?

How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses? How much regret?
What chain reaction would cause an effect?

If you knew that you would be alone,
Knowing right, being wrong,
Would you change?

If you knew that you would find a truth
That brings up pain that can’t be soothed
Would you change? Would you change?

How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses? How much regret?
What chain reaction would cause an effect?

Are you so upright you can’t be bent?
If everything you think you know,
Makes your life unbearable,
Would you change? Would you change?

If you’d broken every rule and vow,
And hard times come to bring you down,
Would you change? Would you change?

If you knew that you would die today,
If you saw the face of God and love,
Would you change?

Throughout history there have been people who have made bold to look into the face of God, with the kind of daring intimacy that exists between friend and friend; between husband and wife; between mother and child.

Were they changed? Yes they were. Because God, is love.