Sometimes our cat seemed to be more excited about Christmas morning than the rest of us were. He had no interest at all in whatever happened to fill the boxes under the tree, but he absolutely loved diving into the piles of wadded up wrapping paper and climbing into any and every box left open. The contents of the packages meant nothing to him, but he was thoroughly enamored with the paraphernalia that surrounded them.
Words Are Packages, Too ~
I often think of words as little packages that we fill with invisible ideas, concepts, and feelings that we want to send to someone else. We hope that whoever “opens” them gets to think, see, or feel whatever we are thinking, seeing, or feeling. I’m convinced that God sees words that way, too, and in this season that culminates in a crescendo of opening boxes, it must frustrate Him to see us responding to His verbal “Christmas packages” like our cat did–ignoring the content and spending our time playing in the boxes.
In all fairness, though, while the words of the Christmas narrative are filled with some of the most priceless content that language has ever attempted to convey, sometimes the personal implications of those contents are hard for us to grasp, and understanding what God meant is a struggle. No doubt, the Bethlehem shepherds themselves questioned what some of the words they heard from that delegation of angels might really mean. The babe they were sent to find that night would ultimately demonstrate exactly what God meant by the words He said.
Luke’s familiar report about the shepherds’ experience exemplifies our struggle to grasp the meaning included in some of God’s unique words. It also provides a springboard to highlight what an astounding benefit it is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” (John 1:14 (NKJV)
Retelling the Story ~
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings 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. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’.” Luke 2:8-14 NKJV
“Glory” is one of God’s special words, and it shows up a couple of times here. What the shepherds understood about it isn’t clear, but maybe they had the same trouble with it that we do. Bible readers recognize the term, but what it means on a personal level may not be all that clear. It seems to represent a visible phenomenon that surrounded the entire entourage, but later the angelic host offered that word as their supreme expression of praise of the One who sent them. “Glory” is one of those sanctified religious words that might not be included in our conversational vocabulary. We tend to associate it with some kind of unusual supernatural luminescence, and most of us are content to leave it within the confines of a creedal recitation, or the lyrics of a hymn, or some ritualistic liturgy.
A Living Definition ~
The babe waiting in the manger that night was sent to show those shepherds, and ultimately the whole world, what “glory” means on a personal level. The Apostle Paul declared that the “glory of God” has a face.
“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:6 NKJV)
Jesus came into a world radically different from our own in many ways, but the people were not so different. Oh, I know, they didn’t have cell phones, cars, flying transportation, and digital media, but none of those “advances” have managed to deliver us from the distressing similarities we share with them. Like many of us, they had ruined lives, broken relationships, diseased bodies, violent enemies, and oppressive rulers. They experienced catastrophic failures, paralyzing anxiety, haunting fear, and bouts of abject despair. They also fantasized about miraculous provisions that had no real hope of ever materializing. They had weaknesses they couldn’t overcome, unfair abuses they couldn’t escape, and awful realities they couldn’t ignore. Most of them didn’t know what “the glory of God” meant on a personal level either. But then He came, and things began to change. He showed them that “glory” means things like this:
- A man blind from birth was spending another day doing the only thing he could do in a world that offered no hope–begging for handouts from people he couldn’t see. Then “Bethlehem’s Gift” showed up, and suddenly, sight wasn’t just a fantasy anymore. A world full of beauty he had never imagined flooded into his eyes, and he saw that the “glory of God had a face.”
- A misguided young woman was caught in a situation too humiliating for words, suffering the awful prelude to an agonizing and shameful death at the hands of self-righteous religious bigots. They dragged her in and threw her down in front of the One God had sent and suddenly, hope, compassion, and deliverance weren’t just words anymore. She saw the “glory of God” in the face of Jesus Christ.
- Bitter tears mingled with the dust under her feet as a grieving, widowed mother followed the procession carrying her only son to his grave. Language would fail to describe the despair filling her heart at that moment, but then He showed up, and as the breath of life filled her son again she realized that the “glory of God” was living, too, and she saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
As we unwrap our boxes this Christmas and as we sing “Glory to God in the Highest,” remember that He wants us “not” to get lost playing in the packaging. Whether it’s a box under the tree or God’s words on a page, they are meant for us personally, and it’s the contents that really matter. The shepherds weren’t sent to the library to look up a definition. They were sent to a stable to look “glory” in the face.
© 2017 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
To follow this blog, sign up just below the Search box in the upper right sidebar for regular email notifications of new posts.