As I was reflecting on the readings for tonight the word that stuck out for me was, “glory”. It’s a word that we use every week in our worship, coming as it does in the first line of the Gloria, “Glory to God in the highest”. But it’s also a word that we come across even more through the Christmas season. For instance, it appears in lots of our carols, including ones that we’ll sing tonight.
Angels from the realms of glory
Hark the herald angels sing – Glory to the new born king
It seems to me that one of the great things about the different festivals is that they give us an opportunity to concentrate on an aspect of what God is like, and what difference that makes to our lives. Every week we say “Glory to God in the highest.” But what does that mean? At Christmas we have this chance to spend some time experiencing God’s glory, thinking about it, and allowing our faith and knowledge of God to be deepened so that our weekly worship and our daily lives throughout the year are made richer and more glorious.
It seems to me that two big events coming up in 2012 might help us to think about this idea, the idea of glory. First of all there is the diamond jubilee and secondly there is the Olympics. So, what is the glory of diamonds and of gold and how might they help us to think about God’s glory and its place in our lives?
Beyond the flummery of royal barges and street parties, fun though they might be, is there a deeper glory that the diamond jubilee might symbolise? I think that there is. When I think of diamonds I think of two things. I think of hardness and I think of light. The diamond endures, it lasts, it is a physical representation of faithfulness, of the faithfulness of God. God’s glory endures, and God’s faithful endurance is glorious.
There is loads of light in the Christmas story, the light of the angels, the light of the star. Our reading from John’s account of the good news calls Jesus himself the light of the world. Jesus is God’s glory shining into the world, dismissing the darkness. But, the glory of a diamond’s light is different from all of these. You see, diamonds aren’t a light source. They sparkle with reflected and refracted light. Their glory comes from another source. So, a diamond’s lighted glory is not like God’s glory. But perhaps it does give us a picture of what our relationship to God’s glory might be. On our own we sit in darkness but as we faithfully reflect and refract God’s glorious light in the world so we sparkle like diamonds.
Will you permit me a little doggerel?
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Leading wise ones from afar
Now to where he lies close by
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
Gold is glimpsed through door ajar
So if the glory of diamonds is faithfulness and light, perhaps represented in the Christmas story in the star that guided the wise ones to the stable, what is the glory of the gold that they brought?
In the Olympics, the glory of gold is the glory of victory, of defeating all comers, of being faster, stronger, higher. That gold is costly gold. It is earned in early morning training runs, dedicated lives, with blood, sweat, and tears. And so the glory of God is costly glory. Jesus was given his gold as a baby because he had left the place of glory to come to the place of humility and humiliation, to experience pain and suffering. The glory of God is the shame of the cross. So, we too, as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps will experience pain, suffering, and shame. Jesus won a victory on the cross and in his resurrection. It was a victory that defeated death, and promised us life with him, forever. It was a glorious, kingly, golden victory. It was a costly victory. Because of that victory, as John puts it, “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
On this Christmas Eve we face a choice. Will we receive Jesus, will we believe in his name, do we want to be the children of God. There is glory in that choice. Do we want to see more of God’s enduring, faithful glory. Will we reflect that glory into the dark places of the lives around us? Are we willing to dedicate our lives to the costliness of that glory? Do we want glorious lives?
Having inflicted my poor attempt at verse upon you earlier, I think that maybe I owe you something written by someone who knew what he was doing. This poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins doesn’t use the word glory, nevertheless, the theme of God’s abundant glory, and our necessary response to that glory runs all through it.
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.