I had a strange experience a couple of mornings ago. I was standing in my garden, in the early dawn, when suddenly I saw the face of Jesus looking back at me, from the grass. Just his head...as though someone had buried Jesus up to his neck on my lawn. It was quite a shock, I can tell you - until I realised that what I was actually looking at was the remnants of a football which my dog has systematically chewed pieces off, leaving just some bits of white leather hanging on! In the right light, it looked just like the face of a bearded man, looking right at me.
My first thought was 'E-bay'! I could make a fortune. There have been faces of Jesus on pieces of toast, or in the core of a tomato that have gone for thousands! The face of Jesus on a Vicar's football...that would be worth something! But then, it set me wondering. For a start, no-one actually knows what Jesus looked like. There are no portraits of him by anyone who knew him. We have a picture of him in our minds - long hair, beard, nice smile and so on. But actually, the chances are that he would have had short hair. And probably a typically Jewish nose! So on reflection, I decided that pedaling dubious images of a probably incorrect version of Jesus wouldn't be very appropriate. So I booted the ball back up the garden!
I wonder whether you have ever tried to imagine the face of God. It's impossible of course. But I think it is possible to imagine God's expression, at least. I imagine God looking, frankly, disappointed. I imagine him looking at the mess our world is in, and being rather miffed, to say the least. He must look at the wealthy bankers getting richer, while the foodbanks of Portsmouth struggle to keep up with the demand from the homeless and poor. He must weep over the battles in Syria and all around the middle east. He must be distraught at the shootings in Newtown, Cincinnati just over a week ago.
As well as imagining God's expression, I wonder if we could try putting ourselves in God's shoes for a moment. Given a world which is systematically ignoring your call to love God and love your neighbour, what would you do about it? If you were God?
Perhaps you would be tempted to jolly-well sort it all out. Perhaps you would appear on a thunder cloud, and start laying down the law with an iron fist, coupled with the threat of thunder bolts and lighting (very very frightenly! Galileo, Galileo...). Perhaps you would use your almighty, omnipotent power to force people to be kind to one another. Perhaps you would reach into human hearts with divine love, and tweak each human soul so that it henceforth only does good things, right things, holy things?
But, if you did that...you might find that you have a new problem. Instead of a human race which chooses of its own free will to love you and worship you, you would have created a race of puppets. You would have reduced the beautiful thing that a human being is - filled with possibilities for ingenuity, music, science, art and creativity into something not much better than a toy. Adam and Eve would be reduced to Ken and Barbie. And any love or worship they offered you or one another would be a poor thing indeed. A mere shadow, a fabrication.
So, what do you do? How do you persuade human-kind that there is another way? How do you speak a Word to them that they will hear, and to which they can respond with all their hearts? Here's what you do...
You send them your Son - a human being who is so filled with God that he can say with integrity "I and the Father are one". You send them a Word clothed in flesh. You show them what a human life can be like if it overflows with God. You send them a Word which reveals the full glory of God by living the kind of life that God calls all his creation to live.
You send them...a baby. You send humanity the most fragile form of humanity that you can conceive, so that humankind might finally wake up to the idea that the glory of God is not shown in acquiring wealth, or fighting wars, or living in hate - but the glory of God is shown in the weakest kind of human being possible...a baby, in a stable; son of a poor unmarried woman in a backwater of the mighty Roman empire.
If you could stand in God's shoes tonight, perhaps you too would send humankind a Divine Word clothed in flesh. For tonight, God comes to us as a human, to show us what it really means for us to be human. By a life of selfless giving, total sacrifice, total love and compassion, Jesus shows us the heart, and the face, of God.