“To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” – Exodus 24:17
“When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it.” -2 Chronicles 7:1-2
“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.
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” -Luke 2:8-12
In Luke 2, when an angel appears to shepherds, we are not surprised they were terrified. That not only seems to be the common response to angels, but also the way we would likely feel in the same circumstance.
But I wonder if not only the angel scared the shepherds, but by the other thing the text mentions. The thing not pictured in our nativity scenes because there’s no easy way to depict it: the glory of the Lord.
The glory of the Lord surrounded the shepherds. Original readers would have been shocked by the scene that has become so familiar to us.
The glory of the Lord rarely appeared to people. And when it did, it was frightening in its otherness. When the glory of the Lord appeared in the temple, the priests dared not even enter. When the glory of the Lord appeared on the mountain, the Israelites compared it to a consuming fire.
And now this fire, this otherness, this glory, was surrounding shepherds.
Shepherds, who were considered religious outcasts. Whose profession made it virtually impossible to follow the oppressively detailed religious laws. Whose 24-7 in the field duties kept them away from religious festivals.
Shepherds, who were lowly. Whose job kept them away from society and gave them little money in return. Whose responsibilities took ruggedness and grit.
At the birth of Jesus, God tore the curtain between heaven and earth and ripped apart human expectations of who was worthy to be in His presence.
God sent His glory to outcasts. His fire was no longer restricted to the mountaintop or the most holy place; it was sent to warm the hearts of all.
Loving God, remind us how Christ broke through the divide. Bring us into Your presence. Help us know how we are loved and welcomed there, no matter what. May we embody that same kind of welcoming. May we bring those who are feeling on the outside this Christmas into our homes and churches so that they may see their place in Your story, too. Amen.
Glory in the Highest- Chris Tomlin
Noticing Immanuel: a series for Advent. Each day starts with noticing: a picture of an everyday Christmas moment. That picture leads to a verse, a meditation, a prayer, and a song. My hope is that when we see those Christmas moments a second time, they will strike us differently. That we might feel the presence of Immanuel this Christmas season, whether we are sitting in quiet or moving in chaos.