In the Jewish tradition, as people walk down the street a company of angels goes ahead of them saying, “Make way! Make way! For here comes the image of God.”
A rabbi explained that making graven images of God is such a no-no for Jewish people because God’s intention is not for the art to be the image of God, but rather the image of the artist. In Genesis 1:26 when God says, “Let us make humankind in our image” it is God’s intention that the thing that will most look like God in creation is the well-led human life.
Ultimately, this is about a way of being and living in the world so that our lives reveal the heart of God’s character in action. When people look at one another, they should see the image of God who has made us reflected in who we are and what we are about.
This has two paradoxical sides to it:
- First, nothing is more amazing or should make us feel more confident than to recognize that we have been made in the image of God. In the words of Jesse Jackson, “God don’t make no junk.”
- Second, there is no more humbling truth in relationships. Every person we meet bears the image of God and deserves our best behavior and our deepest respect.
This paradox – that I boldly bear the image of God but I also humbly honor that image in others – is at the heart of the life of faith. Christian baptism is designed to proclaim this reality, connecting us to the one who reveals what the image of God looks like when life is lived well: Jesus Christ.
Imagine how human relationships would change if we always “heard” the angels’ words in each encounter we have with every person we meet. Imagine how conflicts would be different if we wrestled together, not to defeat the opponent but to honor the presence of God in each other and discern God’s deepest desires for us (individually and together).
As Advent unfolds, we once again wait to celebrate the one who shows us what humanity is to look like. Colossians 1:15-16 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” When we encounter Jesus, we see someone born in humble beginnings, destined to die on a cross, and persistently coming back in the resurrection. Here we see that God is fully present, willing to suffer, and persistent in loving us no matter what the cost. This is also what we are to look like when we live our lives fully as the image of God.
So, when you hear the angels sing on Christmas announcing the birth of Jesus, listen for the echoes as you encounter each person all year long. You may also hear the angels say, “Make way! Make way! Here comes the image of God.”