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Reflections on Glory from the cutting-room floor, Luke 2:8-14

Luke 2:8–14

[8] And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. [10] And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [12] And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” [13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

[14] “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)

We are confronted today not with angels in the field, but with the conviction of God’s existence upon the heart.  Romans 1: says,

“[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [21] For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18–23). 

Fear in the presence of God’s glory is the only response when is nothing else offered.   The Law of God works in the same way. Paul says in Romans 7, “The Law tells me how we can be right with God!  But no one can achieve it.  What good does a map of the world give to you while you’re stranded on a desert island?  It only makes you longing for rescue worse!” 

Some of you are here and you’re struggling with your doubts. There is not better place for you to be then right here.  Because your response to the holiness, and glory of God might change? Do you want it to?  The fear can give way to joy.  Notice how that happens to the shepherds. 

 [10]  The angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [12] And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

They quickly got their sheep in the pen, arranged their affairs and went to see Jesus.  Luke tells us,

[15] When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” [16] And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. [17] And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. [18] And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. [19] But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. [20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:15–20).

You too can move from fear to joy when you come into Jesus’ presence.  Take that table spoon you're using and trade it for a bucket to fill with the only thing that can satisfy you, Himself. 

It is God’s intension for the creation to return glory back to him.  When our lives image the attributes of God, others see the glory of God’s presence in us as his living temples.  So we bring God’s glorious reputation into the lives of others.  In that way we ourselves forever enjoy the light of God’s glory as his vice-regents. 

That’s why Scripture calls us to glorify God.  In one sense we cannot increase God’s glory.  But when we speak truly of him and obey his Word, we enhance his reputation on earth (and among the angels - Eph 3:10).  In this way we part of the light by which people come to know God’s presence.  So Jesus says that his disciples, like himself, are the “light of the world” (John 8:12).  Doxa is the Greek word Luke uses twice in Luke 2:8-14. The light of God’s reputation appears before the shepherds and the angels cry out for us to join them in saying, “Glory to God in the highest!”  Because our words and our lives bring praise to God and we find in that praise a taste of the final glory we will experience when we find ultimate peace forever in His eternal presence.  Shalom!  

C.S. Lewis preached a now famous sermon in the summer of 1942 called the Weight of Glory. He famously said at the beginning fo the sermon,  “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  The whole sermon is about our pursuit of glory, and our relentless choice of lesser glories masquerading as the ultimately glory we crave most deeply.  He uses the analogy of a schoolboy learning Greek as an example.  No one wants to learn grammar -- it’s hard!  But when you’re able to read the great poets you realize all that grammar was worth the effort.  You find that you delight not that you can brag that you know Greek but that you can read it for the deep enjoyment and pleasure of it. 

Lewis writes, “enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just in so far as he approaches the reward that be becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.”

The reward is not simply tacked on to it like a bonus at the end of good sales year.  The act itself gradually grows more rewarding and suddenly you find yourself enjoying it.  Lewis’ point is that God is the only thing that is an end in itself.  Everything else you give yourself to in pursuit of glory is a means.  You use money to buy reputation, happiness, membership, possessions. Money is a means to an end.  But God is the end and the means.  He is the consummation. You can never get to the end of God, and when you realize the weight of his glory, the weight of what Jesus did for you on through the cross, resurrection, and ascension, you see for the first time an option you never knew existed.  You don’t have to work yourself to the bone for salvation: it’s offered to you freely because Jesus paid the price.  

Lewis continues “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”  The books or the music [or the hobbies or jobs or homes or family or education or freedom or liberty or independence] in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty [of these things]—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  Lewis writes, “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

And that transcendent beauty is captivating to those who believe and threatening to those who do not.  In The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. by George Steiner the “A.H.” is Adolf Hitler.  Steiner tells the fictitious story that Hitler does not die in a bunker in East Berlin, but escapes in a small plane that flies south. Thirty years later Jewish bounty hunters find him in the jungles of the Amazon.  Hilter by this time is a very old, frail man. They can hardly imagine this man being the source of so much atrocity.  As they are transporting him out of the jungle for trial in San Cristobal, the press core eagerly waiting.  The men ask Hitler to explain why he did what he did.  Hitler essentially responds, “The Jews pressed on him the blackmail of transcendence.”  Hitler found such enduring hope to be horribly threatening to his soul. 

Lewis says much the same thing in Weight of Glory:

In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us. It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please be a real ingredient in the divine be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

We can be left outside - forsaken, rejected, turned away, ignored, pitied.  Or we can be brought in - welcomed, accepted, delighted in, rejoiced over, taken up in the glory of the Lord of glory.  We don’t want to be rejected so we produce idols on earth, land and sea to accept us and gain false-glory.  Calvin said our hearts are idol-making factories because we don’t want to do the grammar of faith and repentance. But eventually the fellowship with the Father becomes so precious to us that we trade up our affections for the joy of being his, whatever the sacrifice. 

God says through the prophet Jeremiah, 

[12] Be appalled, O heavens, at this;

be shocked, be utterly desolate,

declares the LORD,

[13] for my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living waters,

and hewed out cisterns for themselves,

broken cisterns that can hold no water.  (Jeremiah 2:12–13)

And as we drink of His glory -- his brightness, splendour, luminosity, we shine as the Sun. As one poet has said, “The leaves of the New Testament rustle with the rumour that [these fallen world and these lesser glories] will not always be so.”  And as Jesus promises, “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Rev 21:5). 

And this breaks out into love for the person sitting next to you.  As Lewis writes, “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations -- fear of joy of God’s glory!  Which is a profound responsibility given that there are no ordinary people. “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.... you have never talked to a mere mortal.”  God’s glory reveals your deepest needs and highest hopes. And it can be yours as your fear turn to joy and delight in the his presence of satisfying beauty.


Hail the Heav'n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings

Ris'n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth

Born to give them second birth 

Hark! the herald angels sing:

“Glory to the newborn King!”


IHS Amen.