2nd Sunday after Christmas
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests! In the name of Jesus who was born to save us from our sins, dear friends in Christ, “Oh, you should have seen it! It was absolutely glorious!” Have you said that before? What is “glorious”? What would you call “glorious”? Maybe you’re thinking of a breath-taking view of nature – like standing on a hillside soaking in the rich colors of a forest clothed in the colors of autumn or rolling hills glistening with freshly fallen snow or standing on the edge of a sea or ocean gazing at the vast and endless amount of water – would you call that glorious? Or maybe it’s something totally different like a football game where your team pulls off an amazing come-from-behind victory with seconds left – oh, it was glorious! Or maybe it’s taking your newborn son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter into your arms for the first time – glorious! Or maybe it’s walking from -60 degree wind-chill into your cozy warm house- glorious!
What is glorious? Well, whatever it is to us, it is something that is great, wonderful, awesome, amazing, breath-taking, it makes us want to blab it all over the place. Well, what about the glory of God? We heard in the Christmas account about how when Jesus was born an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone around them. What would that have been like? Would that have been a glorious sight?
Well, God tells us in His Word about all kinds of glorious events that dealt with the “glory of God.” Remember the Israelites when God brought them out of Egypt and led them Mt. Sinai and His glory descended on the mountain and what happened? Thunder and lightning, the whole mountain shook, there was a trumpet blast that grew louder and louder, there was smoke billowing from the mountain. Another time when Isaiah the prophet was commissioned by God he said, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple…the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” Or what about when Peter, James, and John watched as Jesus was transfigured before their eyes and shown with the brightness of the sun. Would it have been glorious to be there? I’m thinking so!
But remember how people typically reacted to such glorious events? They reacted with fear! They were terrified! The Israelites who saw God’s glory descend on the mountain trembled with fear and pleaded with Moses to speak to God for them. Isaiah crumbled to the ground and said, “Woe am I! I am ruined!” Peter, James, and John fell face down to the ground terrified. Even the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were…terrified!
So, why did they react this way? Because of who they were- sinful human beings. When sinful human beings are confronted with the glory of the Lord, they are terrified. Why is that the case?
Well first, the glory of God reminds us of our sinfulness. When we stand in the presence of perfection our imperfection becomes oh so clear. If you were to attend a very fancy wedding banquet where everyone is decked out in tuxes and fine dinner dresses and you were there and you spilled catch up right down your shirt – how would you feel? Well, even worse is the fact that our sins show how much we deserve God’s eternal wrath, condemnation, and damnation and that, well, that’s terrifying!
And secondly, the glory of God forces us to come to grips with just how insignificant you and I really are. Everything in the world was made by God. Now, think about standing next to the Grand Canyon, or a massive mountain, or the ocean, or Niagara Falls, it’s a bit intimidating because it shows us how small we are in comparison, but God MADE all of those things! Or consider the solar system and how massive the earth is and the sun is and the stars are, and God MADE all of them! Think about that! What amazing power, what incredible might, awesome glory! And what are you and I in comparison? Why, we’re nothing! Next to God we’re insignificant little specks! And WE want to see HIS glory?? His glory would just blow us away and consume us! That’s terrifying!
That’s why our text says, “No one has ever seen God.” Sinful human beings like you and me, cannot stand in the presence of such a holy and great God – we’d die, we’d simply be consumed by his power and might.
But God does want us to know Him. God wants to reveal Himself to us. And God has revealed Himself to us. But in order to reveal Himself to us God had to HIDE His glory. Yes, believe it or not, God hid himself in order to reveal Himself to us. So, He didn’t come with power and might because that would have blown us all away. Rather He came meekly and humbly, taking on real human flesh, being born of a human mother, coming as a baby. He remained glorious – but it was hidden. So much so that if you were to look at Jesus you wouldn’t have immediately thought, “Obviously that’s God.”
But really, that’s where His real glory is. Jesus didn’t come with thunderous power and might, that would have destroyed us, rather, He came from the Father “full of grace and truth.” He came in gracious love. Yes, He remained the eternal God as John the Baptist testified, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” In other words, Jesus has gloriously existed from eternity to eternity and is therefore completely greater than John the Baptist.
Yet, “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” Here the Greek is interesting. Instead of “one blessing after another” the text literally says, “grace in place of grace” or “grace upon grace.” In other words, abounding grace.
Just think about the grace that God showed to the apostle John. In grace God called him to faith. In grace God called him to be one of his disciples. Even though he wasn’t anyone special, even though he said things he shouldn’t have and had selfish ideas. In grace Jesus showed him some amazing things – like miracles, like His transfiguration, like raising a child from the dead. In grace Jesus further entrusted his mother to John. In grace Jesus appeared to him over and over again after His resurrection. In grace Jesus used him as a pillar of the church, even used him to record the Words we’re reading. Grace upon grace upon grace!
And in amazing grace God has shown that same grace to you and me! In grace Jesus brought us to faith when he washed us clean in our baptisms. In grace Jesus continues to forgive us even though we say things that we shouldn’t say, even though we think really sinful thoughts, even though we do really foolish things. In grace God continues to forgive us, in grace God remains with us with His faithful love, in grace he continues to strengthen our faith, in grace he comes to us in His Word and in His sacraments to build our faith. Grace upon grace upon grace!
But perhaps most amazingly is the fact that God has revealed his real glory to you and me. On our own, Jesus wouldn’t seem like all that much, because to our sinful human nature, all He looks like is a baby placed in a manger. To our sinful nature we would expect God to work in some grand and glorious way. But God has revealed the truth to you: That in order to reveal His real glory to you He had to hide is glory in order to see that His real glory is the fact that he came in order to save you, to save me! And that’s glorious!
And think about what it means to know that! It changes my perspective. It changes how I look at God and His governing of the world. If God’s greatest glory is humbling himself in order to save people, then even in our world He’ll act with patience and love and in the interest of saving people instead of working in great displays of power and might. So even in the midst of pain and trouble and problems God is still working. Knowing God’s glory also changes how I look at other people. If God found His greatest glory in helping others, indeed helping me, then can’t I find glory in life not in being self-serving and looking for glory in myself, but finding glory in helping other people, serving others more, showing more kindness and care for others? Absolutely for a self-less attitudes is truly glorious and by God’s grace that is Jesus’ attitude toward us!
What grace of our God! Far better than a glorious view, far greater than your team’s victory, even more wonderful than holding your little child is this: You have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only. And what is that glory? That he would do anything it takes in order to save you! And that’s truly glorious! Amen.