The word is usually associated with bright lights, lots of fanfare, and one person being exalted above another. When something or someone is breathtaking and beyond good, we say, “that was glorious.”
Most of Western society has tried to make the last month into something glorious. We’ve denied the increasing darkness of the Northern Hemisphere by pushing it back with holiday sales, glittering lights, and jolly old elves trying to rekindle a sentimental feeling of warmth and safety.
There is great irony here. If that is glory, then there was nothing glorious about Christmas. A baby was born–with all of the pain and screaming and bodily fluids of birth–in a dirty, stinky stable, in a small village, to two insignificant peasants, under the shadow of an illegitimate pregnancy. The only creatures that witnessed the birth were barn animals. The only people who even knew about the birth were smelly, stinky, shifty shepherds. Trust me, you do not want shepherds showing up right after you’ve given birth.
There was no light from the star filling the stable with a soft lens effect. There were no fat little cherubs hovering overhead like Cinderella’s helpful birds. There was no majestic music swelling in the background. And there certainly were no wise men or kings!
It was dark and unnoticed by everyone except a handful of marginalized sheep herders. And anything but glorious.
I’m dwelling on this darkness because, once again, my two reading plans have converged in an interesting way. The lectionary reading for today is, of course, Luke 2. Tomorrow morning I will preach about the shepherds and the angelic host singing their famous refrain. The Journey reading, however, took me to John 12:37-50. These are the last words of Jesus’ public ministry, right before he enters the upper room and has his pre-arrest conversation with the disciples.
The people have just welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with palm branches, like they would welcome a victorious king. But then, they are afraid to believe in him, because the religious leaders are threatening to hurt them if they do. John’s commentary ends that section with these words:
for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
The word glory translates the Greek word doxa. It means famous. It is a person’s reputation.
Now, go back and rethink the angelic visit to the shepherds. Where do you expect a king to appear? In the palace. Where do you expect God to show up? In the temple. This is where the glory of the king and the glory of God are supposed to be.
Where does Jesus show up? Among the riff-raff. In the dark, stinky stable. On the cross.
This is the glory of God. This is the glory of Christmas.
Jesus said in John 12:46-47:
I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
We are not called to be amazing and popular and “world-changers.” We are not called to be exalted above others because of wealth, power, intelligence, success, talent, or beauty. We are not even called to “save” people. That is human glory, and it is fickle.
We are called to enter the darkness and shine the true light of God’s love into places that actually need the light, while we allow others to shine God’s love into our darkness.
These are hard words, yet, they are truly glorious.
Merry Christmas everybody.