Posts Tagged ‘Emmanuel’

My Face

 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” Genesis 1:26a

According to the creation story recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, humankind was created in the image of God and according to God’s likeness. Not only that, the account is recorded as a conversation within the Godhead: “Let us make…” We assume this is a discussion among the persons of the Trinity, which is one of many biblical hints that God, while One God, is not a single being, at least not as we understand single beings. Rather, God’s core essence is relational. The Trinitarian paradigm describes a God that expresses in different but interrelated ways. Indeed, this series of Life Notes about The Faces of God has attempted to describe a number of the ways our one God manifests in our lives. The descriptors of those manifestations are familiar to us because many describe very human traits – lonely, sorry, demanding, militant, merciful, vengeful, intimate, calm, submissive, creative, and loving. If we are indeed created in the image and likeness of God, why would we expect anything different?

While I believe it is accurate to claim that we reflect aspects of God’s nature, I am not making a case for pantheism, which is the belief that everything is God. Rather, the more correct term for our relationship to God is panentheism, which is the belief that God is in everything. The difference is far from trivial. A pantheist would say “I am God (and so are you),” where the panentheist would say “God is in me (and also in you).” That I do not perfectly reflect God’s nature is an understatement and a relief. There is, however, a portion of God’s nature reflected in me. Richard Rohr, in his book A Spring Within Us, writes, “We cannot bear the impossible burden of being God, but we can and should enjoy the privilege and dignity of being with and in God” (p. 356).

The first faces of God for most of us are those of our parents (an illusion quickly overcome in adolescence). Imagine an infant gazing up at the loving faces gazing back at him or her. The parents are so much larger, so much more powerful, so much smarter and worldly, and the infant is completely dependent upon them. It must be difficult for an infant to imagine how these incomprehensibly vast beings could be so captivated by one so small, unworthy, and helpless. When parenting works as designed, however, a powerful bond forms between parent and child. For the rest of our lives, even once our parents are gone, we long for that intimate, accepting, caring connection, particularly during our toughest trials.

When we are in the presence of one we care deeply about, when we feel loved and accepted for who we are and as we are, we enter a state of heightened awareness of who and whose we are. In these experiences, God within us connects with God within the other. Sometimes, the connection is so powerful that we feel more like witnesses than participants. In those moments, heaven and earth merge, and we know the ground we are standing on is holy. Those moments cannot be forced by strength of will; they are gifts of grace that can only be received when and as given.

When we live with the knowledge that God lives in and through us we begin to understand that our bodies truly are temples of the Most High. God looks out through my eyes and sees God looking out through your eyes, and together we say, “Let us create in our own image,” and life springs forth from the relationship. When I identify with God living through me, my prejudices, my biases, and my judgmental vision fall away, and I see the world around me with a clarity not otherwise possible. And I know everything is just as it should be, right here and right now. Obviously, there is work to be done to help the world become as it will be; but for this moment, I can simply enjoy what is in a worshipful, contented way. The moment is always enough when we center ourselves on the presence of God in us.

One of the many faces of God is my face. Another is yours. Divinity lives within us as Emmanuel.

Note: this is the 36th and final in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God


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Life Worship Notes—December 26, 2013 

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.’” Luke 1:46-48a

This passage from Luke is the beginning of one of the most widely read scripture passages during the Christmas season. The complete refrain (Luke 1:46-55) is referred to as Mary’s Song of Praise, or The Magnificat. It is Mary’s response to learning she is carrying the Son of God, the Messiah. Emmanuel, meaning God is with us, will be born through Mary. Being young, unmarried, and pregnant would not be good news to most women of her era. However, the angel Gabriel assured Mary she had been chosen to birth God’s son. The news fills her with joy, in spite of the challenges it will present. She believes it is a sign of God’s favor.

Mary’s place in history was secured by being the earthly mother of Jesus. Even so, God’s favor falls on all of us still today. When God chose to take on human flesh and walk among us, that adventure began as a baby, born of a human mother. It was a physical birth, the same way the rest of us began our earthly journeys. While Jesus’ birth through Mary was physical, Jesus’ birth in us is spiritual. God reaches out to us in Spirit; and when we reach back, Christ is born in us. We reach back to God by accepting the gift of Jesus and dedicating our life to his work and purposes. Emmanuel, the true gift of Christmas, is God with us. Once God is with us, God can work in and through us. The gift of Emmanuel is given freely to all who will accept it. However, those of us who receive must then decide what to do with the gift. If we hide it away, only to be brought out on special occasions, it will wither and fail to thrive. God’s holy presence in us is to be shared and allowed to become an inseparable part of our daily experience. One of the most effective ways God works on earth is through the hands and hearts of God’s people. God’s favor is given to us, and we respond to God’s favor by passing the blessings it brings on to others.

The essence of Emmanuel is love. Love manifests in relationships. Through the birth of Jesus, God chose to be in relationship, physically, with the people of the time. Today, God chooses to be in relationship with us spiritually. God reaches to us; but until we reach back and accept God’s invitation, there can be no relationship. At that point, we begin to know, recognize, and respond to God’s favor. Otherwise, God’s favor is like a radio wave being transmitted, but not received. God speaks, but is not heard.

Come home to church this Sunday. Receive the favor of God by receiving and following Jesus.

Greg Hildenbrand

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