by The Rev. Patricia Stetson-Warning, Certified Spiritual Director
December 23, 2020
God is not invisible. We can see the face of God.
One of our beloved songs of the Christmas Season is Mary did you know? The words, Mary did you know that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God? are a beautiful thought for us year after year after year. We may have little trouble imagining looking into the face of God in the infant Jesus because of our Trinitarian belief, and our claims that Jesus is Lord. But what if it is also true that when others looked into your face and my face when we were infants, that they too saw and perhaps kissed the face of God?
John Phillip Newell, in his book, Listening for the Heartbeat of God recounts the history of Celtic Christianity, which held onto its earliest teachings that the image of the invisible God is also what is seen in the face of every newborn child. In it, he quotes 5th century teachings that “when you look into the face of a newborn baby, you see the face of God.” This idea has captured my attention, and I hope that it captures yours. Because it is important. So important that the earliest story in our Bible teaches us this very thing: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
What if it’s true, that every child is conceived and born in the image of God, that “a newborn, freshly come forth from God, contains the original unsullied goodness of creation— and humanity’s essential blessedness?” Thus, “to look into the face of a newborn is to look at the image of God.”
Consider seeing the face of God in a newborn baby
Think with me what is it like, looking into the face of a newborn… there is nothing like it. It is mesmerizing. People love to look at the face of babies, to hold them and stare at them. I sat for hours just staring at my babies and grandbabies, and many others’ babies. I know I am not alone in that. People are naturally drawn to the innocence and beauty of a baby’s face. Especially when our eyes meet. What is so mesmerizing about the face of a baby, if it is not the face of God?
If it is true, then there is an essential goodness not just in the Christ child, but in each and every one of us. I say this without hesitation because the same first chapter of Genesis tells us that as well. At the end of every day for the first 5 “days” of the creation story, God says that what was created was “good.” But on the day that God formed humans out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into them, God said they were “Very Good.” Looking into the image of God’s self in human flesh, God said they were “Very Good.” So what happened?— The fall, the crack, losing our way are some of the descriptions for what follows beginning in Genesis 3, and the repercussions of this altered state, remain with us still. And because of it, you and I have lost sight of our original goodness.
Our condition might be “cracked” but that’s
not where it ends
Theologian Scot McKnight, in his book The Blue Parakeet refers to our condition as “cracked images.” We lost sight of our oneness with the goodness of God, the image we were created to be living. Instead we have been focused on the flaws in humanity, or denying that we even have them, or even worse yet, making ourselves into an image of our design.
What we celebrate at Christmas is that the resolution to our cracked condition has come to us in the flesh. God saw the dilemma, and took on flesh to the fullness of Christ. In Jesus, we, like Mary, are able see the face of God, the goodness of God, in the flesh of one of us. In Christ, our image of God as a loving God, a forgiving God, a self-sacrificing God, a patient, compassionate, and healing God, a God who would give his very life on our behalf is restored. In Christ, we see clearly what the image of God in the flesh looks like.
We are restored to our original goodness
In the flesh of Christ, our image, the one that is created within each of us, though lost, cracked, fallen, whatever term you want to put on it, is still there, ready to be restored. In Christ all is forgiven. In Christ, all is made new. And in Christ, we can begin to see ourselves as God sees us— image bearers of Christ. It is why without hesitation the Apostle Paul calls us the Body of Christ.
The song says, “Mary did you know….when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?” We believe that about baby Jesus. The questions I ask you, are
- “Did you know that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?”
- “When you were kissed as a little baby, do you know they kissed the face of God?”
The earliest Christians from Scotland found it to be so. And more and more pilgrims to Iona Abbey are likewise finding it to be so. I believe it to be true, and believed it without being able to “name it as such” long before I read Newell’s book The moment I read it, I too felt the presence of God’s Spirit filling me with God’s yes!
If it is true, and I believe that it is… It accomplishes what Jesus set out to do in his ministry, it invites us to change our minds, to change our thinking about God, ourselves and others. It opens us to looking for the good in one another and expecting to find it, instead of focusing on what is wrong. It moves us toward love for God, ourselves and one another. It moves toward seeing God as a loving God who created us for goodness, and who wants us to participate in a restoration process— for us to be restored in Christ-likeness— the image in which we were first created.
And that changes how we live
When we see Jesus, and how he loved and healed and served, and was generous and compassionate and forgiving, then we can see, that THAT, is indeed the direction each of us are to being moving in our ongoing redemption, our restoration, our reconciliation to being the fullness and goodness of whom we were created to be. The image, and goodness, of the God who created us, the image that each of us was born with, remains with us still. And we have already seen it most clearly in the face of a newborn baby child— like what we celebrate in the birth of Jesus, the Christ we have been waiting for. Because, like Mary, when we look into the face of a newborn baby, we see the face of God. When we kiss that little baby, we kiss the face of God.
The Rev. Patricia Stetson-Warning
Certified Spiritual Director and Presbyterian Pastor in Gordon, NE