We say he is the image of the invisible God, (Col. 1:15) but even in his coming to us and taking on flesh, Jesus is still invisible. Willing to be invisible... unrecognized... unacknowledged.
You can hear the incredulity in his young friend, John's, voice, can't you? "He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him." (John 1:10) I try to imagine the pain of that. The breathtaking irony. The hunger to be known and understood. The longing for the world to see. The temptation to strip off his human prison of flesh and establish his identity, his worth, beyond all doubt.
For Jesus to become a creature in the world he created is more than enough to get our minds around. Lucy Shaw expresses the stunning wonder, "He is curtailed, whose vigor hurled a universe." But to make such a journey of rescuing love from heaven to the utter helplessness of infancy... and then be passed over... misunderstood... judged to be nothing?
What single-minded, purposeful, compassionate obedience did it take for Jesus to walk through this world completely unrecognized for who he truly was? Even those dearest and closest to him did not grasp it while he lived.
When he calmed the water of the sea, or changed the fresh water to fine wine, did he want to tell his earthly friends... anyone... what it was like on the second and third day of creation? What it was like to speak and have seas divide and waters spring up from the land?
And when he helped his friends to fish, did he remember the fifth day of creation, when fish first swarmed in the seas? Was it a burden to bear that nobody... nobody... got it? Got... him?
The author of Hebrews says what kept him going was "the joy set before him." (Hebrews 12:2) The joy of accomplishing what had been lovingly planned from the beginning... the joy of pleasing his Father. And you. Your face was before him. He was willing to bear the terrible irony of obscurity to accomplish the plan, to please his Father, and to win you.
Faces come to mind. Faces of friends who feel invisible and passed over. Faces of friends who are willing to serve Jesus in arenas which will never offer them anything like the recognition they deserve. Faces of saints who willingly, gladly, lay down the worldly accolade for the "Well done!" of heaven. Or who try to. Or who want to. How do they do it... the ones who do? How will we?
All of us, some frequently, feel undervalued, unseen. But our deepest pains are lessened in that moment of recognition that Jesus... gets it. That his own feet have walked through this very pain. May we, this Advent, stretch to be like him, and live for his accolade alone, his face only before us. For soon, as scripture promises and Advent reminds us, we will be face to face.