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Christmas and the glory of God

Luke 2.1-14


"In that region there were shepherds living in the fields .. then an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them"
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven ..'"
"The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God"

There is a lot of glory at Christmas.

The glory of the sun is that it shines.
The glory of an architect is the stunning building.
The glory of the football team is an immaculate set of passes and outstanding skill that climaxes in a spectacular goal.
The glory of a performance is where the orchestra and choir and soloists are in perfect harmony, where every note, every beat, every emotion is exactly right - and at the end there is stunned silence and then the audience explodes with a sense of joy in rapturous applause

But tonight there is something strange going on here.

The glory of God is revealed in a baby 'wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.'

Poverty and dirt and rejection and blood and pain and weakness: not quite what we expect when we talk of glory.
But when this baby is born, heaven is torn open and we glimpse the glory of heaven.

We see the glory of the Love of God

God in his love comes and lives among us. This child is 'Immanuel', God with us. He is, we heard this yesterday morning, the Son of the Most High, the Son of God.

And in his love he does not simply come down and touch the earth, and live a golden privileged life: born in a palace, with everything he could need, waited on by servants, where his every wish and desire was fulfilled.
Instead in his love he comes deep into this world, into our real lived experience, of dirt and poverty and rejection and violence and pain and weakness and blood.

How much do you love another person? 
I'm not talking about physical desire or whether they are someone you do not think you can live without. I'm talking about real love. 
How much would you give up or suffer for their sake? Would you really walk 500 miles, and then 500 miles more, for them - would you give up everything for them - would you go through abandonment and excruciating pain so that they would be blessed and you could be with them?

In God's love he chooses to identify himself with us not in our glory, but in our shame and failure and brokenness. And that love is his glory.

[Reflection: At the heart of human love there is a paradox. Love delights in the other, wills the best for the other and desires (appropriate) communion with the other. But those three dimensions of love, which should be held together, can contradict each other. 
Jack (from the film Titanic) loves Rose. He wants the best for Rose. So at the end of the film he gives his life to save Rose. He dies so that she might live. But in giving his life for her, he denies her the possibility of communion with him and also denies himself the possibility of communion with her, and so denies a critical element of what love is. 
That is the tragedy of love, and it is inevitable in a world in which there is death. The paradox can only be resolved if death is temporary and not the end].    

We see the glory of the transforming power of God

This child has come to bring change to the world. He is Jesus, the Saviour. The name Jesus means 'God Saves'.

There were the old jokes: 'Jesus saves but Maradona gets the rebound'. That is made more complicated today by the fact that some strikers are called Jesus - so now it goes, 'Jesus saves but Jesus also gets the rebound'.

But Jesus came to save us from all that destroys life, all that brings death and destruction.

He came to save us from sin - our rebellion against God and the consequences of that rebellion. 
He came for both our forgiveness - for all the hurt we have caused to him, to others, to this creation and to ourselves - and our transformation.
He came to transform our desires and thinking so that we begin to will what he wills (we pray 'Your will be done on earth as in heaven'), our relationships, our identity, our eternal destiny.
He came to turn us away from a road that leads to eternal death to a road that leads us to eternal life.

As one of the earliest Christian thinkers said, 'The Son of God became a son of man, so that the sons and daughters of men can become sons and daughters of God'.

That is the 'good news of great joy for all people' which the angels have come to proclaim, that is what Christmas is all about, and that is the glory of God.

But why?

Why would God in Jesus come to us?

Why would God in Jesus forgive us and transform us?

We see the glory of God in his longing for communion with us.

Jesus told the story of a shepherd who has 100 sheep. The shepherd is counting them and realises that one is missing. So he leaves the 99 and goes to search for the one lost sheep. And when he finds it, he is so so delighted, that he puts it on his shoulder, carries it home and has a party with all his friends. 'Party with me', he says, 'I have found my lost sheep'.

God in Jesus came to us to search for us.

That is what happens at Christmas. The Son of God comes among us.

We can imagine Father and Son and Spirit having a conversation. 'How do we reach out to human beings, who have turned from us and who are lost?' And the Son says to the Father, 'I will go - if you send me'. And the Spirit says, 'Great idea, but we will need to flesh it out' (that was my wife's very theological joke).

But that is what happened. The Son of God took on  flesh, came among us as one of us, to seek us because God desires communion with us, and for us to be in communion with him and others.

That is his glory. It is also what we were created for - and when we turn to him, receive him, begin to live in communion with him and through him with others, we share in that glory

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness! ...
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

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