As a Bishop, I tend to get asked lots of questions which can be taken in different ways. One such question, asked of me almost every week, after a Confirmation Service, is "Do you do many of these?"
I tend to resist the temptation to reply "was it really that bad?" and try to give a straight answer. I do indeed do 'many of these'. Over the last fifteen years or so it must amount to about 450 and I must have confirmed well over 4,000 people, from every kind of background and circumstance, from 10 year olds to 80 year olds, from cathedrals in city centres to country parishes, from the suburbs, estates and market towns to the bedside at hospitals.
And it remains almost every time an incredible privilege and joy. It is moving and renewing and invigorating for me, and it is the liturgical heart and meaning of my ministry. It enables me to hear how God is touching the lives of people today. It gives me the chance to show a real colleagueship with the parish clergy and with those who have worked to prepare the candidates and nurtured them over months and years. It's also a chance to speak with friends and relations, some of whom might be quite distant from the Church's life.
One of the things that always strikes me is the faces. There's usually an imposing and uncomfortable chair placed for me very close to the candidates. Close enough to see the nervousness and the anticipation on their faces. Faces full of the warmth and love and support that has been there for them all along the way. They don't know they look like that of course. When you are really happy the last thing you do is to go and look in a mirror to check how you are looking. You don't need a photographer to capture your smile at such moments - though many photographs do tend to be taken.
But you have all seen those transparently glorious faces. Not just after confirmations, however, but faces of those in love, faces at weddings, faces of prizewinners, faces of athletes, ecstatic faces of footballers and the crowd at places like St. James' Park when a goal is scored, faces of children on Christmas morning
Of course there are other faces too that we see every day in our newspapers and on our TV screens. Faces of the oppressed, the humiliated, the grief stricken. Faces of hunger and despair. And the good news - really good news - is that faces can and do change. Like when Bishop Leonard Wilson, who had been kept captive in a prisoner of war camp, went back after the war to confirm one of those who had tortured him in Singapore. He found that the face he had seen before - the face of his captor with its beauty well concealed during those years in the camp, was now changed and transformed as he came forward for confirmation.
That face had changed from inside out. That face had changed from the heart. It was a face transformed by the love of Jesus.
As we come through our Advent preparations to celebrate the birth of Jesus may our hearts and faces change too for "we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
Through the day to day ministry of the Church, the faces and lives of people are changed, changed into Christ likeness. Faces full of compassion and love. For the fact is that when we truly behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem, that glory can change all our faces and hearts and lives.