One of my favourite stories of concealed identity hiding in plain sight is from Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Miserables, where the escaped convict, Jean Valjean, is pursued for years by now retired Inspector Javert. As it turns out Jean Valjean, who had changed his name to M. Madeleine has now become a successful business man and the Mayor of Toulon. Javert arrives in Toulon and is immediately recognised by Valjean. But Javert does not recognise the now clean-shaven, genteel aristocratic Mayor of Toulon as his nemesis. But when he observes the compassion of M. Madeleine he recalls the time in prison when Jean Valjean had also displayed a similar extraordinary compassion for unfortunate fellow prisoners. The more he observed such acts of kindness and generosity from M. Madeleine the more Javert became convinced of the true identity of Madeleine. There is something about this idea of concealed identity that comes from the story of Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold that when the Servant of the LORD would appear He would be largely unrecognised – there would be no form, no beauty, that we would desire Him (Isa. 53:2). But how on earth was this possible? How in God’s Name could those who were created by Him in His image not recognise Him for who He was? The answer to this great puzzle lies in one word: the kenosis.
As we consider the marvel of the first Christmas, we consider that Jesus the Christ was born and lived as a sinless man. What we learn reveals to us that ‘normal’ human behaviour may not be sinful.
It would be easy to think that the Bible presents an unimaginably glorious picture of God. He is described as being light. His appearance seems radiate the kind of light that not only blinds the viewer but also attracts them as well. The light that God emanates is not the photonic light of this temporal dimension, but the kind of light which only eternity can sustain. It is the kind of light that warms and comforts those who are drawn to it and the kind of light that warns and exposes those who try to run from it. God’s eyes are described as being like fire – they pierce the soul of the onlooker. When He speaks His voice is variously described as being like mighty thunder or the sound of many crashing waters over a gigantic waterfall. When He speaks, whatever He decrees happens. Everyone who is permitted to be in His immediate presence is not only overcome with a sense of their deepest purpose being awoken – to fully worship the Most Glorious Being in the Universe – but also to discover that in so doing, their deepest longings are infinitely satisfied. Thus, every picture of God on His Throne which the Bible reveals to us is a scene of unimaginable worship.