the penultimate WORD

Series 2008 - January
They look like their Dad...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican







prefer community eateries. Regulars know where the coffee pot is. They head for the coffee, greeting the waitress and clerk as they reach for their mugs. Names are exchanged, a sure sign of routine and seats as personal as pews are gained.

Not long ago I witnessed the morning rite at Fanjoy’s in Jemseg. Arriving for breakfast before an early Service, I was enjoying my first cup of java for the day as a couple of regulars arrived. Shortly after they claimed the booth in front of me, a third regular arrived and joined them. I could see that these men were religious in their morning ritual.

As my eggs and bacon and home made toast were placed before me I heard one of the men comment to the others, “Bill’s daughters… look a lot like their Dad.” “Yup,” remarked one, as he took a mouthful of coffee and nodded in agreement. “They sure do,” said the other as he motioned to slide his cap further on his head. Agreement struck, they told the waitress behind the counter that they’d have their “usual”.

This was an innocent comment about Bill and his daughters. No judgment was expressed; no tone of criticism was detected. And they agreed. Bill and his daughters resembled each other. I chewed on the exchange as I enjoyed my eggs.

Same has been said of me and my Dad. If you saw me, you’d have a sense of what Theo looked like. Some would see it in the bridge of the nose while others saw a likeness in the set of the jaw or the line of the brow or perhaps the widow’s peak hairline. “Chip off the old block,” is echoed in many conversations when a common timber is recognized. When we are particularly critical sometimes we’re reminded that apples don’t fall far from the tree. Regardless, common timber is recognized from one generation to another. And if the recognition is thin in the face, it is often copied in the gestures and mannerisms that are impossible to deny and follow a life time.

It seemed to me that chips fell regularly in Joseph’s carpentry shop. An axe chewed pieces of wood that were fashioned by plane and lathe in the hands of a journeyman carpenter. Jesus would have begun by playing in the shavings and chips. Later he would have helped clean up the shop and later still he would have learned to plane rough pieces under the watchful eye of Joseph. As the days grew into months and years Jesus resembled Joseph in subtle ways and recognized by patrons of the shop.

It was as the carpenter’s son that Jesus came to the Jordan and approached John. The child who played amongst the shavings and chips now revealed a new timber as his cousin baptized those who responded to his proclamation of the approaching Kingdom of God. While we have no pictorial record of the occasion, countless paintings and statuary interpret the scene for us. And we commemorate the event in January. And we miss the revelation of the Messianic moment for our dispute on Jesus’ placement in the river. Whether in the shallows or in the deep, we argue like disciples who were there and who would recognize the bridge of the nose, or the set of the jaw or the line of the brow.

The evangelists eclipse the obvious. “This is my Son,” they record, “in whom I am well pleased.” And that pleasure was enhanced in a life lived fully, reflecting the character of his father. Jesus who taught us to address his father as Abba… Daddy… Papa... disclosed the character of God not limited to a kindly face or white bead. No Santa Claus icon here! The imagined lap on which we might climb provides us more with a source of loving acceptance and security in our most hesitant of days. Human attributes pinned on God dissolve as we discover the character concealed beneath beard, arm and lap. The character of Jesus, as a chip off the old block reveals the greater timber from which his is hewn… the character of forgiveness, and compassion, of acceptance and unperturbed love.

It seems clear to me that by our baptism we might look for the shavings and chips that fall about us as we declare that we are children of God. And as children, begin to look for the character that is revealed in each of us that is attributable to our heavenly father. So that regulars in the most pedestrian of places might comment as did those patrons of Fanjoy’s: “They look like their Dad, don’t you think?”

Copyright © 2008 James T. Irvine

Series 2008

penultimate WORD Festivals of Light Series

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton


Midi Background: Woody Herman and the Woodchopper's Ball