Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Glory of the Lord

'And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid' (Luke 2:8)

The story of our Lord's incarnation is so familiar to us that it can be very easy to lose the wonder of it all. In the run up to Christmas we are surrounded by nativity scenes, cards, carols and many other reminders of Christ's birth. Shepherds, wise men, angels, a star in the east, a manger and the town of Bethlehem are so well known that we can quickly forget the miraculous nature of what happened 2000 years ago. One such element of the story of our Lord's birth which we can take for granted is that instance where the angel of the Lord appeared unto the shepherds. It is something which does not surprise us for we are so familiar with it, yet for the shepherds in the hills outside Bethlehem that night it would have been the most unexpected and awe inspiring moment of their lives. Never would they forget the night that the heavens were filled with a heavenly host of angels praising the name of God. It is in Luke 2, where we read of this event, that we find a little phrase which sums up all that is concerned with the birth of our Saviour; 'the glory of the Lord'. There are three things to consider about his phrase:

1. The glory of the Lord is a fearful thing
It is difficult for us to understand the feelings of the shepherds on this occasion for their experience is one which is foreign to us, yet Luke tells us that they were all filled with great terror and dread at the sight which they beheld. For simple shepherds, or indeed any person, to see the countryside filled with the glory of the Lord, and to behold the angelic beings in the heavens, could only result in their being filled with fear. This was an occasion of the supernatural world exhibiting itself to the natural world. It was not a vision or dream, nor something about which the shepherds could have any doubt as to its veracity, but it was real before their eyes. How marked a difference there is between the fearful response of the shepherds and those today who claim to have seen angels and to have seen Christ, yet without that same experience of fear. 

This same phrase 'they were sore afraid' is used of those three disciples who were with Christ at his transfiguration in Mark 9. To see Christ glorified, which is but to see the glory of God, left the disciples in great fear, knowing not what to say. Likewise throughout the Old Testament the glory of the Lord is associated with reverence and fear; in Exodus 24 it is described as 'devouring fire', in Exodus 40 Moses could not enter the tabernacle because the glory of the Lord filled it and in 1st Kings 8 the priests could not minister for the same reason. When Ezekiel beheld the glory of the Lord we are told that he fell on his face, no doubt filled with awe and holy fear.

Such a fear of God is very rare today, both amongst the unconverted and also amongst God's people. This lack of fear is exhibited most clearly by the sinful lifestyle of the ungodly, for 'there is no fear of God before their eyes'. The majority of people in our land live a life of practical atheism, living as if there were no God and without fear of retribution for their sins. Sadly this lack of fear of God is also rampant amongst believers. Few are motivated to live a holy life, but are comfortable with the sins of the world. In worship there is little fear or reverence for God but rather a casual attitude prevails and the carnal musical styles of the world are deemed suitable for worshipping a holy God. If we would desire to see the glory of the Lord manifest in our lives then we need a return to a holy fear of God, 'for he will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great'.

2. The glory of the Lord symbolised God dwelling amongst his people
As the children of Israel journeyed through the wilderness they were guided at night by a pillar of fire and during the day by a pillar of cloud. When they came to camp and the tabernacle was erected the guiding pillar rested over the Holy of Holies, and 'the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud'. This was the sign to the children of Israel that the Lord was with his people and that he was dwelling in the midst of them. As the cloud moved the Israelites likewise moved with it, being guided by it through their forty years in the wilderness.

As the glory of the Lord filled the countryside around the shepherds the greatest of all miracles was being manifest in the town of Bethlehem. The message given to Joseph by the angel of the Lordwas being fulfilled; that 'a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us'. The birth of Christ was doubly miraculous, not only that a virgin should conceive and give birth to a son, but that that child would be God manifest is the flesh. Whereas in the Old Testament God had appeared unto men by types and shadows, on that night in Bethlehem God became man and dwelt among men. What a miracle that is and how God was glorified on that night! Rightly did that angelic host  in Luke 2 sing 'glory to God in the highest'. No-where is God more glorified than in the plan of redemption; that he should provide a way of salvation for sinful man, made possible by God taking on human flesh in order to be that perfect redeemer.

As the glory of the Lord shone round about the shepherds that night God truly dwelt among his people in a manner that had never been true before. Let us never lose the wonder of this truth, that the incarnation of Christ resulted in the divine and human natures being joined together in one person. Christ was not humanity deified, not deity humanised, but held both divine and human natures together at the same time. God, the eternal, infinite creator of the universe walked this earth and dwelt amonst men.This indeed is the glory of the Lord.

3. The glory of the Lord signified the fulfilment of prophecy
The words of Charles Wesley's hymn 'Come thou long expected Jesus' help remind us that the birth of the Saviour had been long desired and sought after by those looking to God to provide a Saviour:

Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

In Isaiah 40 the prophecy is given by 'the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness' of a Saviour who would 'feed his flock like a shepherd', and 'gather the lambs with his arm'. Verse 5 of that chapter says that 'the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it'. Once again we find that same phrase used; 'the glory of the Lord'. As the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds the long awaited prophecies of the Messiah were fulfilled in Bethlehem with the birth of the Lord Jesus. 

That Jesus Christ was the long awaited Messiah was beyond dispute through his fulfilment of prophecy; he was born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), in the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) with great sorrow and suffering accompanying his birth (Jeremiah 31:15). Throughout his life he would continue to fulfil the Messianic propehcies of the Old Testament, providing the atoning sacrifice for sin on Calvary's tree. From his birth until his death, and from his resurection until his coming again Christ's fuylfilment of prophecy has shown forth the glory of God. Let us rejoice in this truth, that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life'.

'Behold I bring you good tiding of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord' (Luke 2:10-11)

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