“BECAUSE OF BETHLEHEM…..GOD HAS A FACE”
John 1:1 & 14
I love Christmas. Let the sleigh bells ring and let the carolers sing. Put up the tree, hang the decorations and break out the eggnog.
I love everything about Christmas. I love Christmas Carols and I love to go caroling. I love sending and receiving Christmas cards. I love Christmas trees and Christmas lights. I love Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, Christmas parties and I love to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I love being out in the hustle and bustle, shopping among the crowds. I don’t complain about traffic jams, crowded shops and long check-out lines. After all, it’s Christmas, the season of joy. So bring on Ebenezer Scrooge. I’ll see his humbug and raise him a Merry Christmas!
I love the crispness in the air. I love seeing a few snowflakes (just a few)! I still enjoy watching children seeing Santa. I like seeing Santa too but Dawn says I’m too big to sit on his lap and tell him what I want for Christmas.
I love how our church building is decorated for Christmas, I love giving and receiving gifts. I love our Christmas Eve candlelight service.
I love everything about Christmas. But, I especially love Christmas because someone, somewhere will ask, who was the child in the manger? What does his birth have to do with me?
And I love the answers I have found as I have pondered those questions for myself. The prophet Micah knew that Bethlehem was going to be an important venue for that very first Christmas Cantata:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” –Micah 5:2
Micah had a sense that Bethlehem would be a special place because a special person would be born there. Because of Bethlehem…this is the Christmas moment that has defined all the others. Because of Bethlehem, love is born; hope is here.
Every expectant mother wonders what the baby she is carrying will look like. Most parents to be already know the gender of the child. But even though the ultra sound often reveals the gender, it can’t show you your child’s face.
The name of the child, in most cases, has been decided upon well in advance of the baby’s arrival into the world. Billy, Susan, Emily or Sam. Parents know the name they will call their child by. But they don’t know ahead of time what their child will look like.
For 9 months, the mother has imagined the moment. The moment where she holds her child in her arms for the first time and for the first time looks upon his/her face. For 9 months, she has envisioned what her child will look like.
Finally, the moment has arrived. The waiting is over. She’s holding her child; caressing her baby’s face and either says or thinks, “so this is what you look like!”
I’m sure Mary did the same. Under a star-lit sky. In the company of sheep & cattle & a bewildered Joseph, Mary gives birth to her first-born, a son. She wraps him in swaddling clothes.
Mary is physically exhausted and emotionally spent. She is ready to place her head on her straw pillow. But, before Joseph places Jesus in the manger, Mary has to hold her son in her arms. Mary has to look upon her son’s face.
Mary’s first spoken words at that moment are not recorded for us. But I don’t it would be a stretch of the imagination for her to have said something like this- “So, this is what God looks like!”
Because of Bethlehem…..God has a face.
1. BECAUSE OF BETHLEHEM, GOD IS IDENTIFIABLE
People often wonder about God. They wonder what God is like. And many times, people have an image of God that is out-of-focus. They think that God is far off, out of touch and beyond our reach. They believe that God is uninvolved in our lives; that God is uncaring. They have an image of a God who is to be avoided, dreaded or appeased.
But never in mankind’s wildest imaginations would we consider that God would enter the world as an infant. And yet this infant gives God his identity.
Before John called him Jesus, he called him God. John called Jesus the Word. Words communicate messages. As the Word, Jesus was not just a messenger from God. Jesus is God’s message. Jesus, the Word of God, communicates God to us.
Jesus did not claim to be godly. Nor did he claim to be god-like. He declared that he is God. In this way, Jesus could show us what God was like.
We see God’s glory in Jesus. To see the face of Jesus is to see God’s face. To hear the voice of Jesus is to hear the voice of God. That is the testimony of Jesus Himself.
In John 14, Jesus is telling his disciples that he will be going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. Jesus declared to them- “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In response, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus told Philip- “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
To see Jesus is to see God. That is the declaration of Scripture:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” –Colossians 1:15
Jesus makes the invisible God visible to us. In Jesus, God has a face. The book of Hebrews says this about Jesus:
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” –Hebrews 1:3
Jesus is the earthly counterpart of the heavenly Father. Everything God is, Jesus was. If you want to see God, see Jesus. What does God look like? For 3 decades and 3 years those on earth saw the answer to heaven’s mystery.
We can too as we look at the person and life of Jesus recorded in the Bible. If you want to see the tenderness of God, look at the children sitting on Jesus’ lap.
If you want to get a glimpse of the mercy of God, listen to Jesus as he forgives the woman caught in adultery. If you want to comprehend the anger of God, watch as Jesus drives the money changers and animal traders out of the temple.
If you want to size up the power of God, behold Jesus calming a stormy sea. If you want to behold the compassion of God, pull up a seat and witness Jesus feeding the hungry and healing the sick.
If you want to embrace the love of God, look upon a lonely figure, arms outstretched, nailed to a cross.
How does God feel about death, cemeteries and funerals? Watch as Jesus calls people out of their graves; better yet, stand in amazement as he steps out of his own.
There is a longing in our soul to know God. We who are created in the image of God want to see his image. And the good news is we can and we have. We see God when we look at Jesus. We know God because we have a relationship w/Jesus.
In Jesus, God has a face. God is identifiable. And…
2. BECAUSE OF BETHLEHEM, GOD IDENTIFIES WITH US
Let’s go back to John 1:14. John said that “The Word became flesh”. God identified with us by becoming one of us. He became human.
An elementary school teacher gave her class the following assignment at Christmas time. She asked her students to make a list of questions they would have liked to have asked Mary. Here are some of the children’s responses:
Were you scared of not doing a good job?
What was Jesus’ first word as a baby?
Was he beautiful?
Did he ever get sick?
Did Jesus ever misbehave?
Was Jesus born with hair?
What was his favorite food?
Did you feel any holier?
Did he ever have a pet?
Questions that come from the innocent hearts of children. But they are legitimate questions. But their questions beg a greater one. Why did God become flesh in the first place?
God became flesh because he wants you to know that he gets you. As a human, Jesus understands how you feel. He’s faced what you’ve faced. He was 100% human and had all the normal human experiences.
The Word became flesh. God was a fetus. God was a baby. God wore diapers and drank mother’s milk. Jesus went through puberty and got pimples. He suffered backaches and headaches.
The One who was not bound by time, lived in a world marked by time. The One who could be anywhere at any time, for 33 years, could only travel as far as His feet could walk in a day. The One who never slept, grew tired and required sleep. The One who never hungered, needed nourishment.
God became flesh. When Jesus got a splinter in His hand working in the carpenter’s shop, it hurt. When He got a cut, He bled real blood. He got dirt under His fingernails and drops of sweat beaded up on His brow as he performed manual labor in the carpenter’s shop.
In many ways, Jesus’ earthly experience was as normal and as ordinary as ours is. His birth and the things associated with his birth illustrate this for us.
His parents weren’t royalty. Joseph and Mary were poor, peasant people. The family didn’t have a lot of money when Jesus was growing up.
His birthplace was Bethlehem, a sleepy little village on the hillsides of Judea. The hamlet of shepherds. His bassinet was a manger, the trough from which the livestock ate. Jesus was born in a stable and slept on a mattress of straw. Jesus grew up in an obscure, one-camel town called Nazareth.
I say all that to say this. Jesus is not out of touch with our reality. Jesus gets it because Jesus experienced it. He lived life just like you and I do.
Because of Bethlehem, we can ask and find the answers to these fundamental questions. Does God care if I’m sad? Just look at the tear-streaked face of Jesus as he stands outside Lazarus’ tomb.
Does God understand that I sometimes feel so isolated and alone in this world? Yes. Listen to him cry out from the cross- My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Does God realize what a struggle temptation and sin are for me? Indeed he does. Jesus went through periods of weakness and testing. He was tempted in every way that you and I are, but he did not sin. But, because he went through the struggle of temptation, he understands your struggle. He empathizes with your humanness. That is why, when we approach God and ask him to forgive us, we find mercy and grace for any and every sin.
God knows exactly what you’re going through. He’s been there. He’s felt everything that you and I feel. He’s known heartbreak, disappointment, rejection and pain.
The Word became flesh. God became a human. God totally gets you. And he’s with you.
3. BECAUSE OF BETHLEHEM, GOD IS IMMANUEL
Matthew, quoting the prophet Isaiah, wrote:
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us.” – Matthew 1:23
Because of Bethlehem, the God who has a face has taken his place among us. John 1:14 says that the Word made his dwelling among us.
God is with us….not just God made us…not just God thinks about us; but God is with us. If the King of Glory was willing to enter the world of animals and shepherds, don’t you think he’s willing to enter your world too? I know he is.
A little boy who was in a Christmas pageant @ church demonstrated why we need God with us. He was going to play the part of the angel in the Christmas story. He and his mother rehearsed his lines over and over: “It is I; don’t be afraid. It is I; don’t be afraid.”
He had his lines down pat. Yet, when the Christmas pageant began, he walked onto the stage; saw the lights and the audience and he froze. Stage fright set in. After an awkward silence, the little guy finally said, “It’s me and I’m scared.”
We can relate to the little shaver, can’t we? We grown-ups get scared too. We live in anxious times. Terrorism is living up to its name. Violence hangs over our planet like a dark cloud.
We have a lot of fears. We have a lot of concerns. We’re anxious about the job we can’t find….the health condition that can’t be cured….the marriage that can’t be fixed…. the boss that can’t be pleased and the retirement that seems out of reach.
We live scared lives. And that’s why we need the message the angel gave to the shepherds- “do not be afraid.” And, because of Bethlehem, we don’t have to be afraid. God is with you. His presence will calm our fears. That is God’s reassurance to us:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” –Isaiah 41:10
Did you see in that verse what it is that will take away our fears and calm our souls? God’s presence- for I am with you. Because of Bethlehem, God the Father is with you and you don’t have to be afraid.
God is always with you. He is with you in your illness. God is with you as you go through marital difficulties. God is with you while you are facing financial challenges.
God is with you on those nights when you lie awake because your worries and fears are crowding your mind. The One who does not sleep is with you when you can’t sleep.
God is with you when you are aggravated with your boss or you are frustrated with traffic.
God is with you when you are being wheeled into the operating room; or when you are sitting in the waiting room while a loved one is being operated on. God is with you in the Counselor’s office.
God is with you even when you aren’t thinking about him. Even when you don’t realize his presence with you, for he has promised to never leave you nor forsake you. You may forget about him, but he won’t forget about you.
And let me remind you of the most important time that God will be with you. At the time of your death. The 23rd Psalm says:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
As a Christian, you won’t die alone and you won’t have to face death alone. Loved ones may be gathered around your death bed beside you. But the One who loves you more than anyone else….the one who died for you… will be there the moment you slip from this earth into eternity. The Lord your shepherd will be there with you, to take your hand, to guide you through the valley of the shadow of death and lead you into the house of the Lord forever.
And ultimately that is why God came to be with us. He came to be with us, to make His dwelling here with us on earth, so that one day, we could be with Him in heaven.
Because of Bethlehem, God has a face. And one day we will see him face to face. There is a precious promise in the Book of Revelation. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. This means that God will touch our face. He will caress our cheeks.
Maybe, just maybe, he will let us touch his face just like Mary did. I hope he does. I think he will.