The Glory of God
Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
To face the glory of God is a terrible thing. Moses is fearful of a burning bush. The Israelites were terrified when God came down on Mount Sinai. “To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” Exodus 24:17 And you said, “The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. For what mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” Deuteronomy 5:24-27 The Israelites feel the glory of the Lord to be too much to bear and fear for their lives.
Isaiah has his own encounter. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-5) Isaiah knows he is unclean and doesn’t belong in the presence of a holy God.
The glory of God revealed in the man Jesus is no easier to receive. Peter, James and John are overwhelmed by the powerful presence of God’s glory shining out of Jesus at the transfiguration. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” (Matthew 17:1-8) It is the touch of their friend Jesus, no longer transfigured, that dispels their fear.
The shepherds who received the angel announcement of Jesus’ birth are full of fear at the appearance of God’s messengers. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” These shepherds do not hide in fear but seek to find the promised Messiah.
The glory of God is an awesome thing. Terror and fear are the normal human reactions to an encounter with God. There is only one exception in scripture: the baby in a manger. Paul writes, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:6) In the face of a vulnerable baby the glory of God is revealed in a way that we can receive it. The holy and awesome God humbled himself and became a helpless baby so that the human race could understand and relate to God. The awesome glory of God had always kept us at a distance. We are not holy. Darkness lives inside each of us so that we can not endure the radiant presence of God. So God came to us in a way that could draw us to Himself: as a baby.
This is why Christmas has so much power. A world that doesn’t acknowledge God the rest of the time still pauses its’ hectic activity and tolerates this baby’s day. Why? Because on this day God is approachable. On this day the gift of God’s love can be received.