When an American missionary wandered into an off-limits area of Burma, he was arrested and interrogated. Accused of being a CIA spy, he was placed in solitary confinement. After a few days, his captors gave him a Bible. For more than 80 days, Bob Purdue had nothing to do but sit on a prison cot and read the Bible.
Finally, he was released and allowed to leave the country. Days later he sat in my (Dr. Harold J. Sala) home and related the harrowing experience. Nothing to occupy his time for those days–no newspapers, no magazines, no TV. Not even a radio. Only a Bible. Pondering what he had experienced, I asked, “Bob, was there something in particular that impressed you about the Bible?”
Without hesitation, he replied. “Yes, there was–the glory of God!” Any real encounter with God would have to include the glory of God. Do you remember the experience of the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem when angels appeared and announced the birth of the coming Messiah? Here’s the text. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:8-9).
From the context of what Luke and Matthew tell us about that marvelous announcement, it must have been that the appearance of the angels was accompanied by brilliant light. Scripture doesn’t say that it was a bright light that struck both awe and terror into their hearts. We arrive at that conclusion from the traditional images of the Christmas story we have grown up with. Luke only tells us that “the glory of the Lord shone around them.”
When Moses had an encounter with God, he asked that God would show him His glory. And the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:21-22).
Apparently, the glory of God was so marvelous and bright that when God touched Moses with his glory, He had to shield Moses with His hand to protect him. The word “glory” is found 194 times in the Old Testament, 191 times in the New. With all of the references to the glory of God found in the Bible, you should think that it would be quite easy to understand what it really is.
When I think of the glory of God, especially relating to the marvel of Christmas, I am reminded of the Christmas display that was an annual event at the Denver Dry Goods store, a department store in the city where I grew up as a boy. Every Christmas, the department store would clear out their large corner display windows and put together the most marvelous Christmas display that a child could envision. In this window were angels whirling overhead and toy trains running through miniature landscapes. There were dancing bears, dolls, and airplanes, Santas and mangers (to keep everybody happy).
But what I most remember is that when I stood on my tip-toes and pressed my face to the window, I could only see part of it. Then my father would pick me up in his strong arms and hold me so I could see more. Only then could I begin to see the vastness of that wonderful Christmas display.
The glory of God is much like that. With our human inadequacies, our vision dimmed by the selfishness of our old nature, we can only begin to fathom the glory of Christmas as God’s Spirit opens our eyes to this marvelous encounter with the Divine. But that’s what Christmas is all about.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.