The revelation of God's glory

A certain retailer with an M and an S in its name has got into hot water this year with one of its Clothing and Home Christmas ads. Maybe you’ve seen it. It does a hatchet job on Christmas traditions. Christmas cards get incinerated with a blow torch. Christmas board games are thrown to the winds. Gold paper Christmas crowns are shredded. And underneath it all, rather ironically, a soundtrack of Meat Loaf’s I would do anything for love. Then the message: ‘This Christmas, do only what you love.’ And the slogan ‘Love Thismas, not Thatmas’. Glen Scrivener has made a brilliant video commentary on the ad. You can find it on his Speak Life YouTube channel. Just search for Glen Scrivener M & S Ad. As he watches those golden crowns being shredded he says:

They turn into glitter. What is glitter? Glitter is fragmentary, shining glitz. And there is nothing to it. There is no substance to it. It is utterly atomised.

And with a laugh he reminds us of the old joke:

If you take Christ out of Christmas, all you’re left with is M and S.

And glitter. One of the many reactions to the ad on social media comments:

Oh yes, I’d forgotten. Christmas is all about being self-centred. Silly me.

Well you won’t find me taking a flame-thrower to Christmas traditions. I love them all; Carols by Candlelight, Sprouts, of course, even Christmas cracker jokes. What did the scarf say to the hat? “I’ll hang around here, you go on ahead.” But what I love most about Christmas traditions is that there is substance behind it all. And that substance is found in what we’ve been hearing in these Bible readings. Christians believe the Bible is God’s love-letter to the world. It’s also history. Take that account from Luke’s Gospel of those shepherds out in the dark. That happened. It’s real. And if that challenges your entire way of seeing the world, so be it. That’s what Christmas does. So we need to see with new eyes what happened on that first Christmas night. Let me go through step by step.

1. God’s glory was revealed

The girl Mary had just given birth to a baby boy. Whether Joseph waited outside the barn door or dabbed Mary’s forehead with a soothing flannel isn’t recorded. No doubt they cleaned the baby up and cleared the inevitable mess. Then Mary wrapped up the boy and laid him in the hay that was intended as fodder for the animals, not as a cot for a king. Then the scene changes, and we are taken to the dark, outlying country. Luke records (Luke 2.8):

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

The striking thing about that is just how ordinary it is. It’s the same for us. They were plain shepherds. We are plain men and women. But because of Christmas our lives have been shot through with glory. Luke continues (Luke 2.9):

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.

Angels exist. We need to be reminded that our vision at best is only three dimensional. There is more than we see. And the glory of the living God shone. No wonder the shepherds were scared. But the shepherds’ terror gave way to joy as they heard the angel’s message and the truth dawned that this awesome visitation was not a warning of impending judgement, but a heralding of salvation. (Luke 2.10-11):

…“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

What should our response be? That great army of angels makes it clear (Luke 2.14):

Glory to God in the highest…

Give glory to the God of glory. Give glory where glory is due. God’s glory is revealed. That’s the first thing that happens. What’s next? Well:

2. God’s saviour was seen

Luke 2.15-16:

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.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

What a vivid picture of faith their response is. They believe God’s word. They haven’t seen the birth, but they know it’s taken place. How? Because God has told them! And they go to Jesus, and there he is; a tiny baby boy. Maybe we think “Faith would be so much easier for me if I’d been able to see Christ with my own eyes as those shepherds did.” But, there’s nothing in the account to suggest that the baby looked anything other than ordinary. It wasn’t their eyes that told them this was the Messiah, the King of Kings who would reign for ever, the Saviour of the world. It was faith. They took God at his word. And as they looked at that ordinary little bundle, they were seeing God’s glory in the face of a baby far more clearly than they’d seen it earlier on the hillside in all the majesty of the angel army. This baby was God himself, made flesh, born to be our Saviour – dying for our sins and rising to rule all things forever.

Just as the shepherds were told, so we have been told. We too can know him by faith, just as surely as they did. Our reaction? Keep looking at Jesus. That’s what we should be doing. Take God at his word. Reading one of the Mark’s Gospel’s we’re giving away would be a great place to start. If you’d like to do that, please take one from one of the racks around the church on your way out. What happens next?

3. God’s word was spread

Luke 2.17-18:

And when [the shepherds] saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

The shepherds had to tell others what they’d seen and heard. Why? Because this good news was for all the people the angel had said. And what reaction did the shepherds get?

And all who heard it wondered…

Which leaves open the question of whether that reaction was one of faith or of unbelief. Everybody was full of wonder. Some were locked fast in unbelief. Some were believing. What about you? God’s word is spread. What then?

4. God’s plans were pondered

Luke goes on (Luke 2.18):

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

God’s word was coming at her thick and fast. It was more than she could take in and digest in one go. What did it all mean? She refused to leave it to moulder in the dustbin of her life, discarded and unvalued. She treasured up what God had said and done. Let’s be like her. We need to soak ourselves in what the Bible says. We need to think deeply about all that the birth of Jesus means for us and for the world. God’s plans are pondered. Then finally, in Luke’s account, one more thing happened:

5. God’s faithfulness was praised

Luke 2.20:

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

That, of course, is the way it is with God. His word is true. He keeps his promises. He is faithful. That’s what the shepherds found. And their response was and is surely the right one. They glorified and praised God. This evening, we’re singing these traditional Christmas carols. We should never tire of singing the praise of God. We should be doing that not just with our voices but with the whole of our lives, rejoicing in God’s faithfulness to us in Jesus. The whole of your life and mine should be one long Christ-centred, celebratory carol. Only then have we really understood what Christmas is all about.

There’s another retailer with a Christmas tradition it has no intention of torching – the Fenwick’s Christmas Windows. Apparently the tradition started in 1971 – the year Malcolm Macdonald arrived at Newcastle United, and a space hopper was top of the desirable Christmas present list. Nowadays Fenwick’s Christmas Windows are livestreamed to a global audience. This year’s windows tell the Narnia story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. One of the windows has Aslan the lion arriving to defeat the White Witch and end her eternal winter. It’s a story. But like our Christmas traditions, it has substance and reality behind it. Aslan had to die and rise again to end that eternal winter. Aslan represents the reality of Christ, who died for our sins and rose to rule all things forever.

So what happened on that wonderful night 2000 years ago when Christ was born? God revealed his glory in a baby boy. As we heard in that reading from John’ s Gospel (John 1.1-14):

The Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What’s our reaction? Like the shepherds, we too should go to Jesus to see God’s glory. We too should wonder at what the shepherds heard and saw. Like Mary, we too should ponder deeply on all that the birth of Jesus means for us. And like the shepherds, we too should praise God for the faithful fulfilment of his promises. Have a great Christmas!

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