And … the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. (verses 8-9 of Luke 2, ESV)
After quite a bit of study and contemplation, for now, I’ve settled on a definition of God’s glory that goes something like this:
God’s glory is the shinning forth of all that God is.
It is the radiating brightness of his fullness, and so we read of the riches of his glory (Phil. 4:19). It is awesome, and so we read of the fear that fills those who see it (Luke 2:9). It is transformative, and so we read of how it changes us (2 Cor. 3:18). And it is unknown to some; so we read of how the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD (Hab. 2:14).
Because God’s glory shines, it is naturally associated with brightness or light. The heavens, filled with lights, declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). In Luke 2:8, above, we see that the Lord’s glory “shone” around the shepherds. And in Revelation, with no sun or moon, the city is illuminated with God’s glory as it shines through the lamp of the Lamb (Rev. 21:23). The general idea is that God’s glory is the reason for light and it is the source of light.
God’s glory is:
“Light of light, light’s living spring, …”
– Saint Ambrose, O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright
Christmas night the shepherds saw glory.
This glory of God’s that the shepherds saw that Christmas night accompanied the announcement of the Christ-child who would be the earthly embodiment of God’s glory.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9. ESV)
This glory of God’s that the shepherds saw spoke of God – of God’s holiness, righteousness, goodness, love and great power that would be seen in a way that was different from anyway it had ever been seen before. For the first time ever, God’s glory would be seen in perfection in a human face.
For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ (2 Cor. 4:6, ESV)
Christmas night the shepherds went from seeing glory to seeing glory.
Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15b-16, ESV)
While the heavens declare God’s glory – his eternal power and his divine nature (Rom. 1:20), and the written law displays God’s holiness (Lev. 20:22, 26), in that manger lay one who would reveal all of who God is.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, … (Heb. 1:3, ESV)
That Christmas night the shepherds saw the glory of God’s holiness and righteousness.
Jesus lay in that manger unconnected to Adam’s sin. Jesus begin without sin and he would live without sin; his entire life – his every thought and action – would be a perfect display of God’s character – of his glory – and so Jesus would be full of rightness. And it would be this rightness that would become ours. It would be this rightness transferred to us that would be the grounds for God to justly approve of and accept us.
That Christmas night the shepherds saw the glory of God’s goodness and love.
God’s goodness to us and love for us lay in that manger. Our lives are filled with wrongness – our thoughts and actions are often contrary to God’s character and so we insult and rebel against God. In that manger lay all hope we have for reconciliation to God and our only way to escape God’s wrath. Though God’s goodness has always existed from eternity past, in that manger lay the visible, tangible earthly pinnacle of God’s ultimate goodness to us.
That Christmas night the shepherds saw the glory of God’s power.
And God’s power – the power that the heavens declared – lay in that manger. This power would do many amazing things but finally it would raise Jesus from the dead and signify God’s ultimate approval of Christ’s perfect life and atoning death. God’s resurrection power would be the confirmation of our salvation – it would verify that God’s justice had been fully and finally satisfied with Jesus’ perfect life and with his payment for our sin.
Praying that this Christmas season The Light will shine in your hearts and you will see God’s glory, maybe for the first time or maybe in a deeper way, in the face of Christ so that you will be transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
A special thanks to Pastor Carey Olson whose sermon, “Christ Became a Man,” 12/09/2012, http://www.rockybayoubaptist.org/media.php?pageID=37 was a great help.