December 2008

Middlesbrough Cathedral

One of the things I love about Christmas is to be able to settle down to a really enjoyable film. I am a great Indiana Jones’ fan. I know it is old hat, but my favourite is “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It combines the typical themes of all Indy’s films; swash-buckling adventure, a hint of romance, basic good and bad characters so that you know exactly where you are up to. The film is based around the search for the Ark of the Covenant taken from the Temple of Solomon. The Ark contained, so the film said, the secret of direct contact with God, being able to see God face to face. To cut the story short, the baddies get possession of the Ark and open it just before Indy and his companions are able to. The Gestapo chief, Herr Toht looks into the Ark and at first seems to be moved in ecstasy. However, his face soon changes, as he absorbs the immensity of the presence of God and then, he is literally mind-blown, and explodes into smithereens. What a wonderful film!

Age after age, human kind has tried over and over again to find God, to achieve some form of communion with the Creator of everything – to see the face of God. From the Druids to New-ageists, from Abraham in Ur of the Chaldes to David Koresh in Waco, from the animist faiths of Africa to the Tarot diviners of England today, all have been and are still trying to communicate with God directly, to see him face to face.

‘You cannot see my face,’ God said ‘for man cannot see me and live.’ No-one had ever looked on the face of God. Moses in the Old Testament was given the privilege by God of seeing him as he passed by. But God had to protect Moses by shielding him with his hand so that Moses only saw the back of God, because no-one could see the face of God and live. Even to pronounce God’s name was a terrible and awesome thing. So no matter what man did this deep down desire to see God, to communicate directly with him seemed elusive.

In the end God had to intervene and solve the problem, he had to come up with the solution himself. And what was this solution? So outrageous, so preposterous, so ridiculous, so simple; God became man, the Word became flesh, the Son of God, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born a tiny, helpless baby. Today, God who had been presented in the Old Testament as fearsome, awesome, completely remote, terrifying and frightening to behold has now transformed himself. Into what; into what most normal human beings find the most appealing and heart-warming sight; that of a new born baby? Where is the awesomeness now, where is the fear, where is the threat? God the Almighty has said, “Now is the time when I will come among my people, where I will be one like them, where I will invite them to come with me, to follow me on my journey, to make that journey their own which leads to me, their Father.”

It is as if we had asked God to paint a picture of himself and he sends in return a photo of a little tiny baby. The Almighty, all powerful, great and eternal God, maker of heaven and earth comes to us as a tiny baby; he comes to us as vulnerable as anyone could ever be. And so now, we need not fear looking on the face of God; we need not fear trying to communicate with God, for he has come down to our level and shares totally in everything it means to be human except sin.

All the yearnings of the ages, all the desires are met in this child. And like any new born baby, he brings new hope, new life, the chance of new beginnings, the promise of a bright future. And aren’t these all the ingredients of a happy Christmas, isn’t this the Christmas present we have all been waiting for? It’s here. Take it and have a very happy, joyous, peaceful, hopeful, renewing Christmas. Look on the face of our God and live, live for ever.