You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Ps 27:8)
The holy men of Israel longed to see the face of the Lord. Moses asked the Lord to see his face, but God denied him. Likewise, in the Psalms, David repeatedly begged the Lord to behold his divine countenance. In speaking thus, these holy men desired to know God intimately. They did not expect to see a physical face, for they knew that the Lord was purely spiritual. God’s divinity is not physical. Yet all the same, to express their desire for intimacy, these Old Testament figures spoke metaphorically, asking to see God’s face.
With Christ’s birth, we celebrate God’s answer to these holy requests. God indeed fulfilled the Israelites’ desire for intimacy, and fulfilled it beyond what they ever imagined. He answered not with a metaphor, but with His Incarnate Son. What Moses was not permitted to see, Mary gazed on with ceaseless wonder and ever-growing motherly love. What David so longed to see, Joseph, son of David, beheld, and his heart discovered a joy untold. “Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Mt 13:17).
But Christ’s birth is just the beginning of God’s answer. The event of Christmas is the promise of our eternal heavenly bliss: to see God, face-to-face, forever. These last days of Advent, pressing unto Christmas, stir our desire to remember Bethlehem, where Christ first revealed His face. Similarly, these days that we now live, pressing unto death and eternity, should stir our desire to remember the heavenly Jerusalem, where the blessed already gaze upon the face of the Lord.
For now, in this life, John the Baptist is our model. In today’s Gospel, we hear of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and how the prenatal Baptist leaps for joy. John doesn’t see Jesus’ face. Both of them are still in the womb. All the same, John cannot restrain his joy. He cannot see Jesus’ face, but he knows it’s close and about to be revealed. So too, we cannot yet see Christ’s face, but we know He’s close and His face is just beyond the veil. Come, Lord Jesus!
Image: The Virgin and Child Embracing, Sassoferrato (detail)