The face of God

josephAs Christians, we can take for granted the possibility of knowing Jesus, the son of God, as a human baby. In fact this is an absolutely radical idea. If you were a Jew living in the years before the birth of Jesus, there would be many things that you could know about God. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is a creator, who brings order out of chaos. This God begins to reveal something of himself through the visions and appearances (usually described as being through the mediation of a messenger or angel) whereby he calls certain people into relationship with himself through covenants. He is known as God almighty, as the all-powerful one. To Abraham he is the one who calls him to leave his own country to journey to a land that he will show him. To Moses he reveals his divine name as ‘I am who I am.’ Very helpful. He begins to extend the covenant relationship from an individual, to a family, to a tribe and finally to a whole nation and people. But all through this journey, God remains somewhat functional. He is so holy and so utterly other, that the people generally are afraid of God. If God ever appears, it seems that the first thing that needs to be said is “do not be afraid!” Moses tries to experience the glory of God one day, but he is rebuffed by God, who offers him only to be placed in the cleft of a nearby rocky-cliff and to be covered by the hand of God while the glory of the Lord passes by. Only after God has passed by will God remove his hand so that Moses is able to see the place where God was. Read the story in Exodus 33.

It is little wonder that King Ahaz in our first reading, while feigning piety, will rebuff the Lord’s invitation to ask a sign of the Lord. He knows that no one is able to see the face of God and live. Perhaps this is an appropriate response of such a wicked King, who we discover in I Kings 16 did not follow in the ways of his father King David. Ahaz engaged in human sacrifice – even of his own son – and set up a pagan altar in the temple. Perhaps he also doesn’t think that he needs a sign from the Lord, since he has just entered into a deal with the Assyrians which included offering them sacred treasures from temple to help him in his fight with Syria. Nevertheless, the prophet Isaiah receives a sign that is in part fulfilled with the birth of the son of Ahaz, Hezekiah, but which St Matthew knows is only more perfectly fulfilled with the birth of the true Messiah, the new Joshua/Yeshua who allows the people to finally be in relationship – not with only a concept or an object any longer, but finally with a person.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm (10’16”)
Advent, Sunday 4, Year A

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