Nov 252018

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The Face in the Sky-or the Face From Heaven”.  (By:  Ron Woodrum)

     In his book, The Hungering Darkness, Frederick Buechner shares an experience he had while touring Rome, in a sermon in that book entitled “The Face In The Sky”. He was at a theater that was showing the Italian Film La Dolce Vita, (The Sweet Life). The theater was filled with college students. He relates an experience that he felt illustrates the encounter the world faces during the Christmas season. Let me share part of his story. He writes: “As the Italian film La Dolce Vita opens, a helicopter is flying slowly through the sky not very high above the ground. Hanging down from the helicopter, in a kind of a halter, is the life-sized man dressed in robes with his arms outstretched, so that he looks almost as if he is flying by himself, especially when every once in awhile the camera cuts out the helicopter and all you can see is the statue itself and the rope around it. It flies over a field where some men are working in tractors and causes a great deal of excitement. They wave their hats and hop around and yell, and then one of them recognizes who it is a statue of and shouts in Italian-‘Hey it’s Jesus!’ whereupon some of the men start running along under the helicopter waving and calling to it. But the helicopter keeps on moving toward the city of Rome. As it reaches the outskirts of the city it passes over a building with a swimming pool on the roof, filled with girls…basking in the sun in their bikinis. They start waving and of course the helicopter pans in for a close encounter. During all of this the reaction of the audience in the college town began to laugh at the incongruity of the whole thing. There was a sacred statue dangling from the sky, on the one hand…the young Italians…and the young beauties…the one made of stone, so remote, so out of place there in the sky on the end of the rope; the others made of flesh…enjoying the sweet life. Nobody in the audience was in any doubt as to which of the two came out ahead or at whose expense the laughter was. But then the helicopter continues on its way, and the great dome of St. Peter’s looms up from below, and for the first time the camera starts to zoom in on the statue itself, with its arms stretched out, until for a moment the screen is almost filled with just the bearded face of Christ…and at that moment there was no laughter at all in that theater full of students and their dates and their tubs of buttery popcorn and la dolce vita (the sweet life) college style. Nobody laughed during the moment because there was something about that face, for a few seconds there on the screen, that made them be silent-the face hovering there in the sky and the outspread arms. For a moment, not very long to be sure, there was no sound, as if the face were their face somehow, their secret face that they had never seen before but that they knew belonged to them, or the face they had never seen before but they knew, if only for a moment, they belonged to…I think that is what the Christian faith is…especially at Christmas…there can only be silence as something comes to life, some spirit, some hope; as something is born again into the world that is so strange and new and precious that not even a cynic can laugh, at the sight of His face. That face in the sky. The child is born in the night among us…among the beasts. The sweet breath and the steaming dung of the beasts. And nothing is the same again…Once they have seen Him in a stable, they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His love and wild pursuit of humankind. If the power and presence and holiness of God can be present in this least auspicious of all events, the birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that He can be present there too. This means we can never be safe from Him. We can never hide from Him…or from His power to break into and recreate the human heart, because when He seems the most helpless that He is the most strong, and just where we least expect Him that He comes most fully. Like the statue in the sky…the face in the sky…that Baby makes it so that nothing is ever the same again either…every Christmas…what they have seen and heard in that moment of stillness is just possibly, possibly the hope of the world. And what they feel in their hearts as they wave-maybe with only one hand, a little wave, a not very certain, but with his name on their lips-is the stirring of new life, new courage, new gladness seeking to be born in them even as He is born…into the whole wide world…will we raise our arms out to His arms, raise our empty faces to that bewildering face…Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Be born again in us…as we raise our faces to thy face, not knowing fully who we are or who you are, but only that thy love is beyond our knowing and that no other has the power to make us whole. Come Lord Jesus, this Christmas, to each of us who longs for thee enough to look into thy face.”

Buechner reminds us that every year the world has opportunity to encounter Jesus-The virgin born Savior of the World. His birth, in all the strangeness of a barn, surrounded by animals, laid in a manger, ignored by the inn keeper, ignored by the Political world, ignored by the religious world, and His own people, was welcomed by some, and brought the Presence of God into lives that had never known it before on that level. He brought salvation to all who would humbly bow before Him in recognition of Who He was, and He would be born in their hearts. In a strange way-Christmas is like that statue confronting the college students in the theater remind us, in the midst of what we think is the “sweet life”…that this face from heaven reminds us that He brings life that goes beyond the sweet life of earth and offers the abundant life that can only be found in Him. His incarnation…though a one-time fact of history that happened “at the fullness of time”…comes around again every year when that heavenly face invites us to come to God and Salvation through Him,,,and through Him only. Say yes to the face in that manger and experience what Phillip Brooks meant in his song-O Little Town of Bethlehem:

Oh holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin, and enter in

Be born in us today

The great glad tidings tell

Oh come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

 Posted by at 12:44 am

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