Show us the Father

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
— John 14:8-9, CEB

Who among us hasn’t wanted to see God, especially when we’re in distress? We pray for reassurance. A sign would be nice, preferably something striking enough to be unmistakable. A voice from heaven, perhaps? A clap of thunder?

From early in the biblical story, it’s been known that no mortal could see the face of God and live. Yet the wish to do so persists, as exemplified in the promise of Jesus that those who are pure in heart will one day see God (Matt 5:8).

For Philip to ask this favor of Jesus is both poignant and understandable. He and the other disciples are still reeling over the news of Jesus’ imminent departure; they’re grasping for something with which to steady themselves. Jesus has been talking about knowing the Father, and therein Philip finds a ray of hope: That’s it…that’s what I need. Lord, if you could just show us the Father, that would be enough. With that kind of encouragement, with that kind of miraculous revelation, we could make it…

But Jesus’ response is not what Philip expects. He doesn’t say, “Okay, Philip, I’ll do as you ask and show you the Father.” Nor does he say, “No, Philip, that’s not an appropriate request.” Rather, Jesus asks, “Philip, my lad, haven’t you been paying attention? What do you think I’ve been doing all this time that you’ve been with me?”

This miracle is not the one anybody expected. The God whose face cannot be seen takes on a human face. The God who cannot be named takes on a human name — Jesus. The God who is the source of all truth and all life becomes embodied in the One who is in himself the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

The issue becomes even more acute when it comes to understanding the reason for our worship at Christmastime. It’s one thing to say that Jesus shows us the Father when we’ve seen him do miraculous signs. We can believe that he shows the Father’s sovereign care when he miraculously feeds thousands. We can believe that he is life himself when he raises Lazarus from the sleep of death.

But it’s another to see the Father in the manger. This face, this name, once belonged to a baby rather than a robust miracle-worker.

And even then, he was revealing the Father.

If we want to see the face of God, we must begin by looking into the manger. There we will see power clothed in humility, a God who chooses to be born among the lowly rather than the rich.

Look, if you want to see the Father.

Look. It will be enough.

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