25. December 2022
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
There’s nothing more terrifying than God’s glory departing from you. If His glory leaves so does His presence known by His Word and His gifts. The desperate heart in need of forgiveness, life, and salvation seeks the glory where it is promised and is found. But if His glory departs, then we’re still stuck in our trespasses and sins. We would be like those exiles in Babylon who longed to return to their homes and for the liturgical life of the synagogue and temple. They wanted to know the gracious presence, the comfort of sins forgiven, and to be sheltered under His wings again.
And yet, we want to keep God at a distance. We don’t want Him to leave entirely, of course, but we’d rather He stay out of daily life. We abstract His presence as “in church” or “for church people.” We exile God to a distant land. We can go over the hills and through the woods and snow to visit when we feel like it. We send Him away because we think to live an independent life. We don’t want to be dependent on anyone or anything, especially God.
But the heart longs to be loved and to love. And since we’ve sent God away, other gods will come and enslave us. “We’ve never been enslaved to anyone,” the Pharisees exclaimed when Jesus accused them of the same thing. But Jesus presents their rejection of God’s abiding, gracious presence in the starkest terms. Having abandoned God, they think of themselves as God. But far from that, they’ve bound themselves to the original lies of the Deceiver. They claim to know right and wrong, good and evil and can live noble and virtuous lives. But they cannot be apart from the LORD and giver of life.
And so God gave them over to their debased hearts. They added insult to injury. Sin multiplied upon sin, killing the prophets whom God sent to them to repent them, culminating in their rejection of God’s own Son, Jesus. They thought of killing God off once and for all. And we’ve embarked on the same self-deification and rejection of God. We’ve embraced the most radical of rejections of both nature and God’s revealed Word as a people and culture. We live as if what we want, think, or feel matters most, and what God says doesn’t matter at all. And so we’d rather God stay at a safe distance, up in heaven, or at his weekend cabin at W5406 Hwy SS. And if He dares get too close and make Himself known in our lives, we won’t hesitate to crucify Him again if we have to.
But the most astounding thing is that God suffers it all. He takes the greatest rebellion toward Him, crucifying His Son, born of Mary, to bring about His ultimate saving act! By their rejection and murder of the Son born in Bethlehem, God brings about the greatest rescue ever. This exodus is greater than the redemption from Pharoah’s slavery. In Jesus’s death and resurrection, the glory of God is most revealed. They thought they were putting God off, sending Him down to the depths of Sheol and even to Hades.
But the death of David’s Son conquers them, too. Not even death can hold Him and keep Him away from you. Even more, by His death, He draws you in even closer. The suffering, dead, and risen Christ Jesus is the glory of God, tabernacling among His people. His cross is the glory shining brightest. His blood-bought forgiveness is more brilliant than His presence in the burning bush. The pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night pales in comparison to the glory of His presence in His Word preached and Sacraments given. The glory cloud on Mount Sinai was like looking in the mirror dimly compared to His tabernacling with two or three Christians in His Name. The glory of God, as He was seated between the cherubim on the mercy seat of the Ark, has now been revealed to you and to all. The temple curtain was torn in two, and the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation streaming from the altar. All baptized into are consecrated and anointed priests of God, receivers of God’s grace and mercy. We are all given to eat the body and drink the blood of the greatest and last sacrifice for sins, Jesus.
The glory that departed from the temple as the people were sent into exile in Babylon has returned to the person and work of Jesus. We see glimpses of the kind of glory of God in the Scriptures. The glory of God surrounded the herald angel and the heavenly host as they sang, “Glory to God in the highest!” On the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ countenance was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. Saul was given to see the resurrected and ascended Jesus in glory on the road to Damascus, so brilliant that he was blinded until healed by Ananias. That’s how Luke, Matthew, and Mark with him present Jesus’s glory.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In John’s Gospel, glory recalls the glory cloud of the tabernacle and first temple. He does extraordinary and yet is as down-to-earth as possible. He gives a wedding more and better wine. He gives a man to walk again. He feeds hungry pilgrims in the wilderness. He gives sight to a man born blind. He brings back a friend Lazarus to his sisters, Mary and Martha. He’s not off in the temple, sitting on a seat. The glory of God has gone out into the world, dwelling among the people, revealing God’s grace and speaking God’s truth. He’s beginning to make all things new again, a work finally completed on the last day with the resurrection of the dead and new heavens and earth.
This glorious working of Jesus continues among us as He dwells with us. That glory is revealed to everyone in the most modest of means here and now. He comes to you, dwells among you, and gives you Himself in Divine Service. It’s His voice speaking in the preaching of the Gospel. It’s His blood washing over you in Baptism and Absolution. It’s His body and blood under common bread and wine. They seem so simple and obvious as to have no glory at all! But the glory of you being brought into God’s holy family. The beauty of having your status as His children restored over and over. The glory of God is known as brothers and sisters reconciling with one another. Jesus is known in us as we hear His Word and keep it.
Aaron’s benediction finds its fulfillment in the Word, Baptism, Absolution, and Supper. At the conclusion of every divine service, you hear and believe that God is not abstracted, far off, or absent from you. Instead, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you And give you peace.” Jesus has tabernacled among you, and His glory has shone on you. You are His, and He is yours, and no one can take that from you.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin