One of the words we always hear of a lot at Christmas is the word “glory” or “Gloria”, but have you ever asked yourself what it actually means? When I started to think about this, I found that the only way to really explain it was to use lots of words all joined together – bright, splendid, majestic, magnificent, powerful are just a few, but none of them, even linked together, fully express what the word means; mostly because it is a word which we only really use properly to describe God. “Glory to God in the highest”, Glory be to the Father..”. and so on
In the Bible “glory” is first used by Moses. He asks God to show him his glory, an experience that simply overwhelms him. There is even the suggestion that if ordinary people saw God’s glory, they would not remain alive! Later in the Bible glory becomes slightly less frightening, as the way in which God shows his presence to the people – he shows them his glory, and wonder of wonders – despite this, they live! Once we remember all this we can begin to see why the word is so difficult to understand, because strictly speaking it more or less describes the presence of the indescribable – God himself. St Paul thinks of glory in just the same way, as in our 2nd Reading (Romans 16:25-27) “(God) alone is wisdom, give glory therefore to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.”
But how do people use the word “glory” nowadays? Not very often actually, which makes understanding it even harder. Sometimes we use it in sport, as when a Team achieves a great success, and the papers describe it as “Their day of glory”, and great kings or queens of the past are described as appearing in all their glory. And that takes us to our 1st reading where King David has decided to show off his glory by building a Temple for God, and is told very firmly “Oh No”..God is the one who gives glory… You will not build him a house, he will build YOU a house! And, of course we believe that the House that God does build for David, and for the whole world, is found not in some great building made by human hands, but in the womb of Mary and in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
So, to mark this moment, simple shepherds before they see the baby are given a glimpse of the glory of God, and are rightly terrified. The angels sing in St Luke’s Gospel, “Glory to God in the highest” but only peace to us on earth. The Peace of God is something we humans can experience, gentle – supportive even comforting, but not God’s glory – that is far too great for us! Too great, not just because it is overwhelming, but because it something mysterious… even frightening. Maybe if I shouted “GLORY- GLORY- GLORY on and on at the top of my voice until you put your hands over your ears and begged me to stop, you might get a faint idea of what I mean.
But St John tells us something quite different and quite shocking. In his Gospel, that many of you will miss as it is the Reading for Christmas morning, he wants to make it absolutely clear that the glory that is God, God the mysterious power underlying creation, has done the impossible…. and become flesh. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Some of us know that passage far too well and easily we lose sight of the immense mystery that St John is proclaiming. This is the mystery of the universe, God’s glory, made flesh for us. We say it in our Creed every Sunday, and strictly speaking all of us, not just the priest, are meant to bow at that point to bring home to ourselves the astonishing idea of the glory of God being present for us in this amazing way.
But St John goes one step further still. He reports Jesus saying something even more unthinkable. “I have given them the glory that you gave me, (John 17:22) That is why we have to look at ourselves at Christmas.. to say as we look at our hands held out before us… or as I look in the mirror and see the wrinkles of age … I am the temple of the glory of God ; in and through Jesus I am recreated, given a mystery and purpose quite beyond my understanding, as St John says “From his fullness (his fullness – not part of God but all of God) we have all of us received, yes grace in return for grace”