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by John Larsson, General – 

The inventiveness of the artists who create Christmas cards never ceases to amaze. Every year the nativity story as recounted in Luke and Matthew is seen in a new light, from a different perspective, and with fresh inspiration. No other event has ever been the object of so much artistic creativity.

The challenge for the artist is not in painting shepherds and sheep, a stable and a manger, Joseph and Mary— and even the child Jesus. The challenge is how to communicate the intangible features of the story, what the Bible describes as the glory of God. How does the artist convey the glory of the Lord that shone around the shepherds? Even more to the point, how does the artist capture the glory of God that shone in the face of the Jesus child?

But they do. In every generation Christian artists put into art form the classic words of Paul: “God…hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, KJV). And by means of their dedicated skill and use of every creative technique of light and shade, we look in wonder on a scene where it seems that not only the glory of God, but the very face of God, is seen in the face of the Jesus child.

Such a scene has not only beauty, it has drama. Startling drama. And to really grasp how startling, one has to roll back time to an event that occurred a thousand years before the Bethlehem story. It is recorded in Exodus 33:12-23.

Moses is in the Sinai Desert, and God and he are speaking together. The Lord commends Moses: “I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Moses makes a request: “Now show me your glory.” The Lord replies: “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you…but…you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live…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.”

And so it stayed. “My face must not be seen.” Century after century, year after year. “My face must not be seen.” It seemed it would ever remain so.

But then came the miracle of the first Christmas. As shepherds kept watch over their flocks at night, the glory of the Lord shone all around them. The angel gave them the good news that a Savior had been born to them. A vast host of angels in the skies praised God. And the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see for themselves what had happened.

It was still night when they found the stable. In the darkness they saw Mary and Joseph sitting there. And in a manger—they saw the baby. They saw the face of the child Jesus. We shall never know whether there was an actual light, an aura, that emanated from the face of the holy child. But what we do know is that the shepherds that night saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. They saw what Moses was not allowed to see. They saw the face of God.

This is the wonder of the first Christ-mas. For the first time God shows his face. And we see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

You and I were not among the privileged that saw the face of God that night long ago. Very few did. In fact, very few members of the human race physically saw the face of God in Jesus as he grew up and ministered, and died and rose again. Does that seem unfair? Is it back to Moses again with God’s face no longer being seen?

Paul never saw Jesus physically. So his experience is no different from ours. And that is why his words are so important to us. He reminds us that seeing the face of God is something that happens in the heart. He says: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts.” And he has shined in our hearts, he says, in order “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

God still shows his face. We look at Jesus as Scripture reveals him, we feel the presence of his Spirit within—and in our hearts we know that in the face of Jesus we are seeing the face of God. It is an experience of the Spirit. It is a miracle. It is the miracle of Christmas.

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