Vol. IX — No. 1 January 7, 1968
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.
In Christ Jesus, who is the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, Fellow Redeemed:
There was one verse that we slighted in our consideration of Isaiah’s prophecy last Sunday. It was verse five: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” To the exiles Isaiah gave the assurance that the glory of the Lord would be revealed in such a way that it would be discernible to all flesh. But what is meant by “the glory of the Lord”?
Our text is a familiar section of the Christmas Gospel. There were shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. They were keeping watch over their flocks. It was night—not just any night, but the night that Jesus was born. The shepherds were to be the very first to be informed of His birth. But how? St. Luke tells us how that birth was announced to the shepherds: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” They saw the glory of the Lord! But just what is that? Just exactly what did they see? The display of the glory of the Lord attracted their attention. The angel revealed the significance of that display when he announced: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” That announcement, directed to the ears of the shepherds, interpreted the revelation of “the glory of the Lord,” which they saw with their eyes.
When the angel had finished his announcement, a multitude of the heavenly host joined him “praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The word, glory, was prominent in the praise of the angels. Again the question persists, “what is meant by ‘glory’?”
In the liturgical part of our worship this morning we have already sung “The Gloria Patri” and “The Gloria in Excelsis.” The senior choir anthem this morning will be another version of “The Gloria in Excelsis.” we associate this “Gloria” especially with Christmas Eve, for then it was that the angels first proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest.” It certainly behooves us to strive to understand the message of that word. That we shall seek to do this morning, as we observe this fact:
That latter fact, that the glory of the Lord still shines, should move us to do what the shepherds did the night our Savior was born, namely—
That exhortation immediately indicates that the glory of the Lord has been and can be seen with the natural eye of man. And so it has, and so it shall be! But just what did the men of old see when they beheld the glory of the Lord?
The nucleus or core of the glory of the Lord, as it appeared to men on various occasions, was a flaming fire. That is what Moses saw when he beheld the glory of the Lord in the burning bush that was not consumed. when the Lord gave the law at Mt. Sinai, We read that “the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount.” Ex. 24:l7. The background on occasions was the blue of the heavens with the frame, as it were, being the rainbow. In the midst of the vision of God’s glory God Himself appeared, sitting upon a throne carried by four winged cherubims. That is the way Isaiah saw the Lord in a vision, as recorded in the sixth chapter of his book of prophecy. That is the way the Prophet Ezekiel also saw the glory of the Lord on more than one occasion. The Apostle John reports his visions of the glory of the Lord in the book of the Revelation.
It is obvious that these visions of the glory of the Lord were intended to convey a message to the people who were permitted to see them. The one single word that best conveys that message is HOLY. Every view of the glory of the Lord proclaims above all the holiness of the Lord, for as a devouring fire He reacts to all sin and evil. His position on a throne reveals the Holy One as the Lord and Ruler of the universe. He exercises that rule in His holiness. But there is another feature of that revelation, a feature that soothes and comforts and gives sinful man hope—the rainbow. The rainbow has always symbolized the grace and mercy and love of the Holy One. So the glory of the Lord reveals our God to be the Holy One who is gracious or the God of Grace who is holy.
We have no report of precisely what the shepherds saw that night. we are told that “the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” They saw light; they saw brightness, even as the disciples saw it on the Mount of Transfiguration. we shall one day see that same glory, even as did St. Stephen and St. Paul.
But the glory of the Lord still shines—unnoticed by most, even by those who bear the name “Christian.” where does that glory shine? Under a veil, as it were, in and through the word of the Lord. Between the covers of that book that we call the Bible there can be seen the very same glory that pierced the darkened sky the night our Saviour was born. That glory goes unobserved by most because they despise this book as just another book written by erring men. When church people also mutilate the book, rejecting whatever displeases them, inserting their own notions, adjusting what is written to their own personal prejudices, how can such behold on those pages the glory of the Lord?
When the shepherds saw the glory of the Lord that night, “they were sore afraid.” Do you think that you or I would have reacted in any other way? Centuries before when Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5. The involuntary, natural response of sinful man to the glory of the Lord is always, and without exception, fear. God knows this. That is why the revelation of His glory is accompanied by the re-assuring words: “Fear not.” That was the heavenly message the night the shepherds saw that glory. The glory still shines, so the message is still needed.
What is it that causes fear whenever God draws back the curtain and reveals His glory? It is the guilty conscience of man, the sinner, in the presence of the holy God that causes the sinner to fear. The world is full of people who deny the very existence of God. There are many people who laugh and mock at the idea of their own accountability before the holy God. There are many who imagine that they are good enough and better to stand in the presence of the holy God. But when the Lord shall come in His glory at the end of time, all these shall shake and quake in their boots. They too shall be sore afraid. They shall shake with terror and become stiff with dismay and dread. The bravest and boldest shall melt as wax.
But now most are completely unconcerned. Why? Because the Lord of glory has veiled His glory under His Word. At. Mt. Sinai that glory appeared as a consuming fire. It still appears in that same way in the words given from the mount. The words of God’s law are the message of His holiness to sinful man. Thou shalt be holy! Thou shalt be pure in mind! Thou shalt be blameless in speech! Thou shalt be beyond reproach in deed! Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. And that Lord of hosts says to you and to me, “You too shall be holy, for I the Lord am holy!” What reaction can there be to that demand other than fear? Have you and I been pure in mind? Have you and I been blameless in speech? Have you and I been beyond reproach in deed? No! we have again assembled here as guilty ones in the presence of our holy God. He have confessed our sin and guilt. How lightly we sin! How thoughtlessly we err! How lightheartedly we all too frequently take the demands of our God! If the Lord’s glory would shine upon us visibly in this moment, we would all cower under the pews in sheer dread and terror.
That is why the message, “Fear not,” is needed among us. That is why we need to see and understand the other perspective of that glory—the glory of the grace of our holy God. That came in the message of the angel, “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.” Man, the sinner, shaking in dread before the holy God, had no greater need than a Savior. Our holy God is and has been gracious and merciful. He demonstrated His faithfulness to His grace that night by fulfilling the promises made since the fall of man into sin. He sent His Son. Our reaction to that manifestation of the glory of His grace should be the same as was expressed by the angels that night when they burst forth into praise. Today yet the glory of the grace of our Lord calls forth in us the response:
One angel had made the announcement, but suddenly a multitude appeared to respond to that announcement of divine grace for sinful man. “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.” What the angels did that night we shall be doing this night also, this day, and should be doing every day.
The response of the angels was touched off by the words that stand before us this day, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” This night each one of us will be opening his gifts. Some may be a bit disappointed; some may be pleased. For the most part there will be sincere thanksgiving in the hearts of the receivers. But our greatest gift will not be wrapped in a package and placed under the tree. Our greatest gift is the Saviour that was born unto us. The name of that gift remains forever Jesus—the Savior from sins. Many of you will receive necessary items in the form of gifts—clothing, equipment of one kind or another. But no greater need do we have than the need for relief, for pardon, for comfort, for assurance that all sin and guilt has been removed. That is ours in the Christ-child.
This morning many of you will be attending Holy Communion. As you approach the Lord’s Table you will receive a wafer of unleavened bread and a little glass of wine. When you behold these things, they appear to the eye most inglorious. They are so fragile, so temporary, so consumable. And yet beneath that outward appearance lies the glory of the Lord. The Child born so long ago became the Man of Sorrows. His sorrow was caused by our guilt and sin. He carried that burden to the cross. On that last evening He instituted the Supper we are celebrating this day. It is a supper different from all others. The food is also the Body and Blood of the Lord, for we eat and drink bread and wine that has been blessed once and remains blessed for all time. Before He first distributed that bread and wine, He blessed them. Then He said, “Take, eat, This is my Body.” Eat the bread with your mouth and receive into your mouth my very Body. “Take, drink, This is the cup of the New Testament in my blood.” Drink the wine and receive into your mouth my Blood. God grant that we perceive and discern the glory of our Lord’s Body and Blood under the bread and wine, given us to eat and to drink. He would have us certain, assured, made at ease. That is why He gave us His Body and Blood, that same Body and Blood that He gave and shed for us upon Calvary’s cross. What glory has been given us! May we respond with the praise of that glory all the days of our lives! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.