Sunday, December 26, 2021

Faces . . .

It has been a long time since we routinely saw faces.  Masks have been the norm for many of the last months and more than a year.  I must confess that I forget I am wearing a mask.  Sometimes I smile at people oblivious to the fact that they cannot see that smile.  Perhaps I am not the only one.  It is hard to see people without the full on facial view.  Faces communicate so much and it is hard to know much of someone without looking over the face -- the wrinkles of age and experience, the eyes that sparkle with joy, and the mouth that purses the lips or breaks into a wide grin.  We have been deprived of this view for a long time.  I hope that it comes to an end soon.

We are living in the age of faces -- not so much the personal face viewed directly with the eye but the digital one.  On my computer I am asked to put a face on some of my programs -- an avatar or profile picture that identifies me to my techno gadgets and me to the people on the other end.  Some of them are less than pictures, more personas or caricatures.  You can find places to sell you a face for use on those profiles or free sources that will turn your picture into an avatar.  It is you and it is not you.  Social media has replaced the face with likes, dislikes, and a host of stock statements about us.  Curious that such a thing might pass for the face of a person. 

Though we are living in the age of the face and one of the most popular platforms of social media is called Facebook, I am not sure that faces define us anymore.  Our fascination with technology came long before the advent of the small screens we carry around but they have left us with a false idea of face to face.  God does not give us a caricature of Himself or even an image.  He give us the face of His Son.  In the face of Jesus we see the invisible God.  From the early Church we learn that the word for face (prosopon) is also the word for person.  In the face of Jesus we see the whole person of God.  To read His face is to know God's disposition toward us.  Scripture offers us the hope and promise of seeing God face to face, even more intimately than Moses saw God pass by.  St. Paul describes this beholding of Christ face-to-face as the fulfillment of salvation itself. 

Though the manger and the cross have become symbols, they were not originally.  The manger was nothing important but the Holy Child the manger held was and is.  In the same way, the cross has become shorthand not for a simple event but a person, Jesus the Christ, who suffered in our place, died our death, and rose to bestow upon us eternal life.  The crucifix is one of the ways we remember this.  It is not simply a cross but the man upon the cross who accomplishes all things for our salvation.  But it begins with a manger and the child in the manger.  Therein we see the face of God.  That is the great mystery of Christmass.  And the reason it is not just and can never be a holiday.  It is the holy day in which God revealed Himself not as smoke in the sky or fire at night or thunder or lightening or sign or wonder but flesh and blood.  Still we meet Him in the manger of bread and wine wherein we receive His body and blood.

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