Christmas Day 2016 –
What did Mary see when she looked into the face of baby Jesus? In Mark Lowry’s song, What did Mary know, the line goes this way:
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God Mary did you know?
Here is the story behind the song in the words of the writer, Mark Lowry:
“Well, my Pastor asked me to write the Christmas program for our church, called The Living Christmas Tree, & I wrote some monologue to go in between the songs. I started thinking & wondering if Mary realized the power, authority & majesty that she cradled in her arms that first Christmas. I wondered if she realized those little hands were the same hands that scooped out oceans & formed rivers. I just tried to put into words the unfathomable. I started thinking of the questions I would have for her if I were to sit down & have coffee with Mary...you know, "What was it like raising God?" "...What did you know?" "...What didn't you know?". Over time, it (the song) just happened & I had the lyric.”
In this Christmas season I have been thinking with Mark Lowry what it must have been to be Mary looking into and kissing the face of God.
As I meditated on this thought I came up with three thoughts for us to consider if we were to kiss the face of God today.
When you kiss the face of God you kiss the face of love.
When you kiss the face of God you kiss the face of hope.
When you kiss the face of God you kiss the face of grace.
I know there are four themes during Advent: love, joy, hope and peace. I want to focus on two of those: love and hope and introduce a new one: grace.
When Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote, What the world needs now is love, in 1965 the United States was just beginning to bet involved in what would be known as the Vietnam War. If the world needed love in 1965, 41 years later the world still needs a lot of love. Not Hollywood love but sacrificial, life-changing love.
The power and magnitude of God’s love is summarized in this well-known scripture - John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his uniquely born son. The babe in the manger is the Father’s love gift.
I read a story on Facebook that exemplifies the kind of love God unleashes when we kiss the God of love and let God kiss us with love.
Mike Friesen, no relation to me, shared this story on Facebook.
I'm walking around the deli in Target when a woman walking beside me on the phone says, "I feel horrible. Another year of not being able to get my kids gifts. I'm tired of feeling like a failure in their eyes. I'm tired of not feeling like I'm enough." I walk around looking for meat and walk in front of her. While checking something on her phone, she slams her cart into my Achilles. I turn around and she grunts into frustration, "I'm so sorry. I can't do anything right right now." I told her it was okay. I begin walking with her behind me again and hear a deep breath met with a sad whimper, I stop, and she slams into my Achilles again. She said, "UGH, I'm sorry." I laughed and told her it was my fault. I looked at her and said,
"I overheard your conversation back there and I'm so sorry. I've gotten so many gift cards from here this Christmas, can I give you them?"
"What? Why would you do that? Why would you be so generous?"
"Well, generosity is a trust that I have enough. It's easy to become anxious when you feel like you don't have enough. I can do this because someone has been generous too me. I feel like I have enough because these don't represent monetary things but that I have succeeded in my work, that I am valued and loved by the people who gave them to me."
I handed them to her and told her the amount. She started crying and thanked me. She asked me if I would help her pick out gifts for her kids. I told her that I would walk with her but would be of no help since my toy buying stopped at video games in my adolescence (and still occurs today).
She told me about her kids. Her son, 10, who is obsessed with Star Wars, so that's what she picked out for him. She told me that she feels he'll be an artist of some sort someday and that he's really talented. She hopes to find a way to get him classes to develop those skills. She also told me about her daughter, 8, who is really into animals. She got her Secret Life of Pets, with some coloring books and action figures. She hopes that she'll someday be a vet or a vet tech.
We checked out together and she thanked and hugged me at the door. She thanked me deeply saying that I alleviated that feeling of humiliation. When I was walking out, Luke 16 popped into my head and that God's economy is about friendship. A man gave work and money to accumulate friends. I felt grateful, even as I felt a little poorer, because God has been generous with me and God is inviting me into a less lonely world with friends surrounded by me. I feel blessed that that's the world that God wants me in. A world where we can love and be loved.
Have you let the God of love kiss your face?
When Mary kissed the face of love, she also kissed the face of hope.
Long before Mark Lowry wrote Mary did you know, Mary sang a song after she heard of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, a song we often call The Magnificat:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Notice Mary’s words are all in the past tense. Mary sings this song as if it has already accomplished, yet, Jesus is barely a seed in her body.
We usually think of hope as something that will happen. In the baby Jesus hope is not something hoped for; in baby Jesus hope is fulfilled. Do you need a miracle in your life? Come and kiss the face of hope and let hope kiss your face.
Not only did Mary kiss the face of love and hope, she kissed the face of grace.
Listen to the description of Jesus in the word of John the Evangelist:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).
What is grace? The gift of acceptance based not on what we do but purely on the choice of the giver. Jesus accepts not because we are worthy of his acceptance. He forgives not because we have so little to be forgiven. He wraps his arms around us not because we are so loveable.
Being kissed by grace is to be accepted as we are.
Listen to a more contemporary reflection of what we mean by God’s grace in the words of Brennan Manning, a pastor who struggled for years with alcoholism:
“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.
'But how?' we ask.
Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'
There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.
My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”
What are you searching for this Christmas?
Love? Let yourself be kissed by the God of love.
Hope? Let yourself be kissed by the God of hope
Acceptance? Let yourself be kissed by the God of Grace.
Ronald Friesen © 2016
Shared on Christmas Day 2016, Oasis for the Nations, Phoenix, AZ