Herald Journal Columns
Dec. 16, 2002
Pastor's Column

Advent should be a time to seek the face of Jesus

By Sherri L. Sandoz
Bethel Lutheran Church, Lester Prairie

During a recent confirmation class, the students and I were looking at several paintings of Jesus.

We concluded that each artist had to use some imagination to portray Jesus, because no one really knows what he looks like. Even so, the number of similarities between portraits was amazing. It seems we hold a common idea of what Jesus looks like.

In our mind's eye, we retain our own unique image of Jesus. With each gospel story, we draw on that image of our Lord going about his ministries of preaching, teaching, and healing.

For most of us, Jesus looks very much like the most familiar of the portraits painted by various artists in recent times.

In the Bethel Bible Series, which was generated by a group of Swedish Lutherans, Jesus looks like a blue-eyed, blond-haired Swedish Lutheran. In our portrayal of Jesus, it is not unusual to identify him with ourselves.

The drawing "Faces of Jesus" is a compilation of portraits, drawings, and sculpture that people from all across the world have imagined Jesus to look like since the earliest days of Christianity. So Jesus is black and brown and yellow and white and young and old.

An artist in New York City once created a sculpture of a female Jesus which was displayed at Saint John the Divine in New York City. The point, of course, is that we identify Jesus with ourselves.

But Jesus also identifies himself with us. In one of the most famous stories in the New Testament, Jesus says that a man was hungry and thirsty, imprisoned and a stranger, yet people took care of him.

And he said, "As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40). Not only does Jesus identify with us, he yearns for unity with all of us.

At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus prayed, "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20-21).

It is Jesus' hope that all of us might come together in him.

Some time ago, I was in conversation with a devout Roman Catholic woman who showed me an old wrinkled card that had obviously been cherished for a long time.

Held at arm's length it was an ordinary picture of Jesus. But when held up close, I could discern 48 different faces. All kinds of people were depicted in an array of human expression: young, old, brown, yellow, white, male, and female.

What might the face of Jesus look like? What might the face of Jesus communicate to you and me?

The message of this portrait is familiar. It is rooted in the basic Biblical message. In the book of Genesis, we are told that God created us in his image. By looking into the faces of one another are we able to see the likeness and the glory of God?

During this season of Advent nothing could be more appropriate than an invitation for us to ponder the face of Jesus. In Advent we look forward to the coming of Jesus who is the very incarnation of God.

In Jesus we rediscover the image and glory of God. The woman's portrait is a powerful illustration of the truth that in Jesus Christ all of us are brought together and made one.

St. Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). We are all God's children, and in Him we are made one.

Surely this unity applies to the church which is called the body of Christ. But what about the rest of the world?

Though it is not always apparent in the world today, there are times we see glimpses of that unity. It is a sign of unity when governments hold summits instead of waging war.

It is a sign of unity when black, white, brown, and yellow unite to pray and to work together for peace. It is a sign of unity when those who have been enemies are reconciled and brought together.

There are signs of unity in the Thanksgiving season when families come together and when the church gathers all kinds of people, men, women, young, old, of every race, to share the same cup and the same bread.

During this Advent season, I invite you to look into the face of your neighbor and see Jesus who is the very image and glory of God. And don't be surprised if you see a smile of affirmation coming right back at you, for you, too, are made in his image.

May you glimpse the glory of God in this season of joy and peace and reflect that image to all around you.

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