Throwback Thursday: Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us
What is it like to see the face of God? At the beginning, Adam and Eve had walked with him in the Garden, but they rejected his gifts and without a pure heart, they could no longer see God. With humanity thereafter affected by sin, Abraham never saw the Lord’s face in all his glory and even Moses could only look upon the back of God as he passed (Exodus 33:18:23). Elijah heard him in a small, still voice, but covered his face to conceal the glory of the Lord (1 Kings 19:11-13).
Still the Psalmist calls out to God: “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘Seek his face.’ It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9). Through all of salvation history Israel cried out to the Lord, longing to see his face. In their failings and in their triumphs, in times of exile and in times of peace, the great desire of God’s people was to once again know their creator face-to-face.
Their desires were fulfilled when Jesus Christ came among us, when the divine became man and God became God-with-us, Emmanuel. Yet the Incarnation of the Word was wondrously unexpected – the Lord did not come in power and glory, but quietly and humbly. The infinite and all-powerful God entered into our human flesh and was born a small and helpless infant. He came to save us – and to be one of us.
When the face of God is finally revealed, it is a Child’s face born in poverty. What wonder and joy, what unfathomable blessing to have the God we worship take upon himself our own form. He lived as one of us, and he died as one of us. He was raised up, and ascended into heaven until he comes again.
But what about us today? Can we see the face of God, or is that lost to us until the second coming?
Our vision of the Lord’s countenance is different from the Virgin Mary’s as she sat beside the holy crib, of course. But God is not unreachable, because the Incarnation changed everything. Jesus came to us in the flesh and in a particular way he is now present in his mystical body – we can see God’s face in his body, the Church. Most of all, he established the sacrament of the Eucharist. Though his presence is hidden in the appearances of bread and wine, the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to see his Real Presence, to see his face. As we receive him and go out into the world, having entered into our suffering humanity, the Lord also asks that if we love him, we will see him in those in need, so that what we do for them, we do for him.
Jesus was Emmanuel 2,000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem, and he is still Emmanuel today – God with us. What a perfect gift this is.