In a few days, our family will take down all our Christmas decorations. I am sure you will do the same. There is a sadness that comes with the end of Christmas season. Thankfully, for those who know Christ as the Incarnate Lord, Christmas as a holiday on the calendar is trumped by Christmas as a yearlong testimony to the everlasting incarnation of God the Son.
Therefore, while it is right to take down the tinsel and wreaths, we can continue to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that God became a man. Immanuel. God is with us. And with that never ending reality in mind, I share a Christmas thought that I shared with our church a few weeks ago.
Christmas songs tell the wonderful story of Christ’s glorious birth. Think of how many speak of Jesus’s coming in terms of his glory. (Hymn numbers taken from The Baptist Hymnal ).
Hark, the herald angels, “Glory to the newborn King.” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” 88)
Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth; Ye who sang creation’s story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. (“Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” 94)
Son of God, of humble birth, Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, Hail the King of glory. (“Gentle Mary Laid Her Child,” 101)
See, to us a Child is born—Glory breaks on Christmas morn!
Now to us a Son is giv’n—Praise to God in highest heav’n! (“See, to Us a Child is Born,” 104)
Add to these lines the choruses praising God’s light breaking into the darkness and his splendor coming to earth, and we come to understand why our Christmas hymnody is some of the most sublime in all our hymnals.
But what is the glory of God? And what does it mean to give God glory? Let’s consider a moment these two ideas and see how Christ’s incarnation elicits our praise (i.e., glorifying God) and fulfills prophecy (i.e., the glory of God shall dwell with man).
Glorifying the Already, Infinitely Glorious God
Scripture regularly calls God’s people to glorify the Lord. In the Old Testament Joshua tells Achan to give God the glory after he sinned against Yahweh and the people of Israel (Josh 6:19). Psalms 115:1 calls us to glorify God’s name, not our own. Isaiah 42:12 says, “Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands.” Jeremiah 13:16 says to give glory to God before he brings judgment.
In the New Testament the shepherds are said to have left Jesus, Mary, and Joseph “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Later in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus healed a widow’s son, Luke 7:16 says, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!'” Likewise, in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus indicates our good works can bring glory to God (Matt 5:16). And Revelation 4:9 shows heaven perpetually giving glory and honor and thanksgiving to God.
From these descriptions we can ascertain that giving glory to God includes verbal praise and thanksgiving. In the case of Achan, it means confessing sin. And in the case of the shepherds, it is the ‘natural’ response to encountering God in human form. It doesn’t mean, however, we contribute, add, or improve God in anyway. Giving glory is not like depositing money into God’s bank account.
God created us for his glory (Isa 43:6–7) and he commands us to glorify him in all we do (1 Cor 10:31), but that doesn’t mean we supply what is lacking in his glory. He’s already glorious! And infinitely so. Giving glory, therefore, isn’t a thing we “give” God; it’s actually something we get to do when God saves us from our sins and opens our eyes to his superlative glory.
In truth, God has created a world filled with his glory. “The heavens declared his glory and the skies above proclaim his handiwork,” Psalm 19:1 says. First Corinthians 11:7 calls humanity the glory of God. To get a glimpse of how much glory God endowed humanity with, see Ezekiel 28:11–19. Before the fall, man was crowned with glory (Ps 8:5) and was able by virtue of his righteousness to see God’s glorious creation and give God glory for all he had made.
Tragically, in our fallenness, we have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of created things (Rom 1:21–32). The creation, given to Adam and Eve as a means for praising God (see Psalms 146–50), has itself become an object of worship. God’s glory has been impugned, but because he stands before, outside, and above creation, his glory has not been diminished in any way. He is the all-glorious God, and we cannot increase his glory.
That said, when Scripture speaks of glorifying God, it invites redeemed sinners to recognize his glory for what it is and delight in it with all our hearts. Unlike the elect angels who have ceaselessly praised God since their creation, humanity must be redeemed from its idol lusts in order to give God glory. This, of course, is the ultimate and highest goal of salvation—that the all-glorious God would be enthroned on his people’s praise.
The Story of God’s Glory
From a certain angle then, the Bible is a story of his glory (for a thorough exposition of this truth, see Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment). After the fall, God chose Abraham and his offspring as the people whom he would bless with his glorious presence (Gen 12:1–3; Lev 26:11–12). Impelled by his steadfast love, God gradually revealed his glory to his people. Over the course of the Old Testament, God’s glory was variously manifested until it reached its zenith—the Incarnation of his Son, Jesus Christ. Here’s a summary:
- The “glory of the Lord” is first seen in the pillar of fire that leads the people of Israel (Exod 16:7, 10). In this introduction, the glory of the Lord symbolizes God’s presence and protection among his people.
- The “glory of the Lord” is then witnessed on Sinai (Exod 24:16–17). This is the prototypical theophany in the Old Testament, one that shapes the whole Old Testament and the New (see Heb 12:18–29;cf. Jeffrey Niehaus, God at Sinai)
- Building from the Sinai encounter, the “glory of the Lord” is most commonly associated with the God’s dwelling place. When the tabernacle is built, the glory of the Lord appears (Exod 40:35). When Israel opposed God’s leaders, God’s glory stood over the tent of meeting (Num 14:10; 16:19, 42; 20:6). And when the temple was constructed, the glory of the Lord once again appeared (2 Chr 5:14; 7:1, 2, 3), disabling the priests from service (1 Kgs 8:11).
- The “glory of the Lord” also appeared when Aaron was installed as priest (Lev 9:6, 23). It was promised when Israel failed to enter the Promised Land (Num 14:21; cf. Hab 2:14)—this promise is often repeated Isaiah. Just like the disenfranchised wanderers in Numbers, the exiled Jews looked to the future when the glory of God would return (Isa 35:2; 40:5; 58:8; 60:1).
- Finally, Ezekiel speaks of God’s history with Israel in terms of his glory (1:28; 3:12, 23; 10:1, 4, 18). His large book could even be described as the story of God’s Glory, where the glory of the Lord leaves the temple in Jerusalem (11:23), only to return in the future, when the God’s temple is rebuilt and God’s glory resides again in the new temple (43:1, 4, 5; 44:4).
This is the part of the story that brings us to Jesus. When Israel returned from exile, God’s glory did not. The temple was rebuilt, but his glory is not described. It did not return and Israel effectively remained in exile.
In fact, God’s glory is not mentioned until Luke 2, when at Christ’s birth the prophecy of Ezekiel’s temple (40–47) and Isaiah’s new exodus (60:1) is fulfilled. When the light of the world is born in a Bethlehem stable, God’s glory comes once and for all to dwell with his people. Described in a different way, John calls Jesus the tabernacle of God (John 1:14). He is the new temple and the glory of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18).
As we celebrate Christmas, his birth enables sinners like us to see God’s glory now and forever clothed in humanity. Whereas the prophets of old spoke about the glory in the temple and the glory to come, in Christ we can now see God’s glory refracted through the veil of his humanity (Heb 1:3). It is this reality that makes the angels sing and our hearts rejoice when we hear: “Glory to God in the highest, and one earth peace among those whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14). God’s glory has come to earth, and is now seen in by his people. It is even witnessed through his people (see Matt 5:16). In this we have great reason to glorify God and celebrate Christmas year round.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds