The story is told of a plastic surgeon in the mid-1900’s who encountered a woman whose love for her husband left a mark on him that was greater than any mark he could have made in the lives of someone whose body he helped repair. Perhaps you have heard the story – the story of a woman whose husband went into a burning house in a failed attempt to rescue his parents, resulting in wounds for himself that left his face horribly scarred and disfigured, so much so that he didn’t want anyone to see him, not even his wife, rejecting all attempts for help until… until the day his wife went to the plastic surgeon, who assumed she wanted help for her husband, whom he assured her he could heal until… until she told him that since her husband refused all help, she wanted the doctor to disfigure her face, too. “Maybe then,” she said, “maybe then he will let me back into his life.” And so the doctor went to visit the man, who wanted nothing to do with him or any attempts to help his injury until… until the doctor said, “Your wife … wants to be like you.” It was the expression of that kind of love that led the man to begin accepting the help that he so desperately needed.
The last verse of our lesson from John’s Gospel tells us this about Jesus Christ when he came into our world, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” And why? He wanted to be like you!
When you look into the face of Jesus, what do you see? The rest of that last verse tells us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” When you look into the face of Jesus, you see someone very much unlike you and me, don’t you? He is the glory of the One and Only. That means he is the holy, eternal almighty God. When you look into the face of Jesus, you see the one who healed people, not through surgeries, but through the speaking of a word: “See, walk, hear!” You see the one who did not just mourn with those who mourned, but who spoke to the body of the lifeless and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” “Lazarus, come forth!” You see the one who had come upon him the dazzling bright of eternal glory as three shaking disciples by the names of Peter, James and John could only cower in fear in the presence of God as they heard God say, “This is my Son.” When you look into the face of Jesus, you see the one whom John could only describe as he did in the opening verses, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Through him all things were made; and without him nothing was made that has been made.” Yes, when you look into the face of Jesus in that manger, just like the apostle John of old later said, you can say that you see the glory of the One and Only Creator of all. You see God’s Son, born of the virgin Mary. You see someone who is not even one bit like you and me.
But when you look into that manger a little more closely, what do you also see? You see someone – who though not like you – wanted to be like you. And to be like you and me, he had to come into your and my world. We are told in these verses that John the Baptist told the people that the Light of the world was coming into the world he created. Verses 8-9: “He himself (John the Baptist) was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
The baby Jesus came to give light to every single person, but why do so many not recognize or receive him for who he is? Well, when he looks into our faces, what does he see? He sees someone completely unlike him. He sees faces disfigured with sin against him and against one another. He sees faced furrowed with worry and jealousy. He sees faces contorted with anger and revenge. He sees faces bleeding with hurt and tearing with the sadness of death and fears of death. The One and Only whose glory does not allow him to endure sin looks upon us and it is only sin that he sees – sin that leads every single person who has been born into this world to want nothing at all to do with the one who came to save the world until… until God sees fit to give faith to all of us who are no more deserving of it than anyone else – faith to see the light that was to come into this world as the light that makes all the difference in our world – allowing it to have it be said of us as John said of those who believe in verse 12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” The one who is the Son of God looks into the faces of those who believe in him and sees people born of God – sons and daughters of the holy God, who sent his Son who was not like us to be like us.
And that is certainly what Jesus did. The apostle Paul once said, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The only way we could have the righteous, holy God love us was to be righteous and holy like him. And the only way we could be righteous and holy like God was to receive a Christmas gift that goes beyond comprehension. The apostle Paul once spoke of that gift in this way: “You know the grace (the gift) of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through is poverty might become rich.”
To say that Jesus “became poor” seems like such an understatement, doesn’t it, especially when you think of the level of poverty the Creator of all went to in order to become like us? Do you remember how the prophet Isaiah described the way the coming Christ would look when he came to earth? Seven hundred years before Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, Isaiah said of him: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Doesn’t it make you want to hide your face with embarrassment and shame when you look into the face of the little baby Jesus and think about how disfigured that face would become, the beatings his back would bear, the mockery his words would cause. Doesn’t it make you want to hide your face with embarrassment and shame when you think of how many times you have thought that the one with that kind of disfigured face was hiding his face from you because of something you felt he was not controlling the way you had hoped he would or was not taking care of the way you felt he should?
But the miracle of Christmas is that we don’t have to hide our face from the face of Jesus, because he wanted to be like you. And nothing – not even the worst attacks the devil could muster – could keep Jesus from leaving Bethlehem and setting his face toward Jerusalem, because he knew that in the end he would again be able to see his Father’s face — the one with whom he shared all power and glory – the one with whom he had created the heavens and the earth – the one who wanted all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the one who sent the one – his Son – who was full of grace and truth – so that you and I can someday see the Father’s face, too. The apostle John, who wrote these words about the arrival of Jesus, also wrote words in another place about our arrival in heaven when Jesus comes to usher us into the glory of the Father: “We know that when he appears,” John said, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Jesus came to be like us, so that we can be like him.
Until that appearing of Jesus, you and I can continue to thank God for the first of appearing of Jesus on the day we celebrate today. Because Jesus came to be like us, and because Jesus through his death allows God the Father to see us as people just like him, we never have to be afraid to turn our face to face toward whatever comes at us. The devil says, “You are too bad to have God love you.” We can say, “Jesus came to be just like me and forgave my bad.” Difficulties say, “Because you’re bad, God let this happen to you.” We can say, “Jesus came to be just like me and forgave my bad by bearing my burdens to assure me that all the bad that happens in my life is meant to help me appreciate his promise of the place where nothing bad will ever happen again.” And death says, “You better watch out, because I’m going to get you, and it’s going to be bad.” We can say, “Jesus came to be just like me and forgave my bad by dying my death so that I can know that death can’t do anything to me except lead me to the one who is the One and Only, the one so full of grace and truth, the one who came to my world so that I can someday live in his.
How do you and I face the future? Face it with the one who already faced it for you and who now faces it with you. That is what happened and what happens because “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” He wanted to be like you – and that will never change — evermore and evermore… Amen.