I speak to you in the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.Spirit. Amen.
Since the beginning, people have looked up at the night sky and marvelled.
From time immemorial, every culture, every race, every people, language, tribe, and nation has looked at the universe around them and have come to the conclusion that there is a great Creator behind it all;
they look at the stars in the heavens or the might of a river breaking up; they look at the invisible power of love and anger, of desire and revenge, and, across history, every people come to the evident conclusion that there are great forces at work, far beyond our comprehension or control.
And, as Christians, this should not surprise us.
As we prayed tonight, all of creation declares God’s glory. The heavens proclaim the glory of God: though they use no speech and have no words, all of creation proclaims the fundamental, universal truth that God is great, that He is worthy of worship.
We Strive for Glory
But, human nature being what it is, it’s also true that, from the beginning, rather than acknowledge God’s greatness, every people, language, and nation have set out to harness it, to lay claim to it for themselves.
Throughout history, we see the greatness of God declared in creation itself, we see the mighty power of God at work in the world, and rather than bow down in worship, we try to puff ourselves up.
We build towers to reach up to heaven.
We place altars on the high mountains of the world.
We build sacred circles beside the mighty waterfalls, hoping some of that power will rub off on us.
From the beginning, humanity has seen and experienced the greatness of God, and our response, all too often, has been the struggle to make ourselves look great, too. We see God’s greatness, and behind so much of human history lies the statement: “look at me, God. Look at the name I’ve made for myself, I’m great too.”
And that’s why Christmas is so very different.
I don’t know if you’ve stopped to think about it, but the message of Christmas is a total reversal of everything human history would have us expect. This night, if we let it, and the this baby in a manger, if we let him, flips everything on its’ head.
Humanity looked up at the vastness of the night sky or the strong forces of nature, and, all too often, came to the conclusion that glory comes from might. Glory comes from making a name for yourself, from not being dependent on anyone, from winning the affection of others, and looking out for #1.
…And then we face the reality of Christmas.
God is great, he fulfilled the longings of a nation and the words of countless prophets, but he didn’t come as a mighty warrior.
He didn’t come in a great show of power guaranteed to win our adoration.
No. Christmas proclaims the glory of humility.
The earth-shattering, mind-blowing proclamation of this night is that true glory doesn’t depend on the adoration of others or a tight grasp on power. True glory – the Glory of God – is such that God Himself can become weak, helpless, defenseless, taking on the fullness of humility, without feeling threatened.
The proclamation of this night is that glory isn’t earned, and certainly not by puffing yourself up to make yourself appear worthy.
The message of Jesus is that, if you want to share in the glory of God, learn the way of humility. And if you want to learn that way, Jesus says, “come and follow me.”
A Glorious Invitation
Now I know there are all sorts of reasons why each of you have come here tonight.
Some are here as an act of worship that they’ve been preparing for over the 4 weeks of the Advent season. Some are here because it is a link to an important family tradition and brings to life many dear memories.
Some of you aren’t sure why you’re here: you, like all of humanity before you, feel drawn to acknowledge that universal and self-evident truth that ‘there must be more than this’, but maybe you’re just starting to grapple with what that means.
And, then lets be honest, some of you were dragged here – chances are it was your wife or your mother who said “come on, we’re going”, and you knew better than to put up a fight.
But however or whyever you’re here, I want you to hear that completely unexpected, perhaps even ridiculous-sounding message of this night: true glory isn’t found in puffing yourself up, in being independent, in bearing your own load, in keeping your head down and minding your own business, in piling up a few good deeds along the way.
No, as you, like those shepherds long ago, like our ancestors in every nation, look up and marvel at the wonder of Creation, maybe not yet knowing who God, the Creator is, hear the message of the babe in the manger: true glory is found in humility.
And in that, we see that familiar, life-changing first step of the gospel truth: to finally give up all our striving and struggling and pretending and mask-wearing, and to admit that we are powerless. To admit that, even if I do my best, I can’t add a single breath to the span of my life, I can’t hold back the forces of nature, I can’t guarantee that my children will continue on the path that is right: to end the denial, and, as we see the great power of God revealed around us, to acknowledge our need for help.
God could have come as the rightful king, but he came helpless and homeless.
True glory is not threatened by riches, and cuts through appearances.
The angels appeared in the glittering sky and announced not to the rich, but to shepherds, that the Son of God had come, and more glorious still, that he wasn’t far off, but was in their very neighbourhood, ready to meet poor, ragged, weary guys like them.
Men, hear that message here tonight: glory is not found in independence, in keeping everything to yourself, in not letting anyone share your load, in trying not to be a bother while you try to find your own way. No, the good news of Jesus is that glory is found in admitting the need for help, in learning to follow; in learning to be an apprentice of Jesus, the Master.
Ladies, hear the message of the prophet: you don’t need to be weighed down by darkness as you try to hold it all together; daughters trying to hold together broken generations, trying to keep the family together and keep up appearances, all while losing yourself in the process. No, “on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned”. Jesus comes to offer a light yoke and an easy burden, and peace that passes understanding, but nothing changes until something changes: it requires that first step, ending that denial, and turning to God for help.
Maybe you know why you’re here tonight.
Or maybe you’re one of those, like those shepherds, and like every people, language, tribe, and nation in history, marvelling at the greatness of God and wondering where you fit.
In either case, hear this: I bring you good news of great joy. To you is born the saviour, the wonderful counsellor, the prince of peace. But he’s not far off; he’s not far away. You don’t need to build a tower or puff yourself up. No, the great message of this night is that Christ the Lord will come and meet you where you are, that His power is made perfect in weakness, and that He offers for you to share in that glory…
…but only if we’re willing to admit that true glory comes through humility.
To God be the glory, now and forevermore. Amen.