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The Grace in Glory
What do you want for Christmas this year? Don't tell me you don't want anything! Besides yourself, what gift would you wish for those you love, and for the world? How about a gift of glory? Would you like some glory this Christmas? Don't you and doesn't the world need a touch of glory? Glory is our theme this Advent season.
The first definition of the noun glory given in my dictionary is: "great honor and admiration won by doing something important or valuable; fame; renown." Synonyms listed include brightness and radiance. The definition of the verb glory in my dictionary is: "to exult with joy; to rejoice." Would you like some joy and honor this Christmas? Most of us need some glory in our lives; we need praise, esteem, recognition. We need to be noticed. We need to be affirmed. We need our self-images stroked. And, most of us need some joy, some rejoicing; free, uninhibited, soaring joy.
When we turn to the Bible, we find some good news about glory. The dictionary definition says we get glory by doing something important or valuable. Jesus says real, true, lasting glory comes from God. In John 5:44, Jesus asked, "How can you believe when you are out for the glory that you get from each other, and when you do not search for the glory which comes from the only God?" To get some glory in your life, don't count on receiving it from one another. The public is fickle; one day you are popular, the next day you are an unknown. One day you are praised; the next day you are criticized. One day you are thanked; the next day you can't please anyone. It is nice to receive glory, recognition, and appreciation from those around you; but don't depend on it! Be grateful when you receive it, but don't let it devastate you when you don't.
Instead, search for the glory which comes from God. In the Bible, glory is the visible sign of God's presence, usually associated with light, an aura, a luminous manifestation, a brilliance, a halo. Often paintings of the manger scene picture a halo around the family, or especially around the baby. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the Messiah's birth, the shepherds were surrounded by light, surrounded by glory. In the book of Revelation where heaven is described as the Holy City, the city is lighted by the glory of God. The presence of God is so brilliant there is no need of sun, or moon, or stars. Glory comes from God. Glory is the presence of God. To seek glory for a Christmas gift is nothing less than the presence of God. Wouldn't you like glory this Christmas? Wouldn't you like the world to receive glory--the light, brilliance, resplendent joy of God's presence?
Glory is our theme this Advent, and each Sunday, I will make an acrostic of the letters in glory to develop the theme. We begin this morning with the letter "g" in glory. There is only one word for the "g" in glory: grace. Glory--God's presence, honor, affirmation, recognition, joy and rejoicing--is a gift from God, the result of the grace of God, God's amazing grace.
Does this sound familiar? Do you have the feeling you have heard this before? Have you noticed that I basically have one sermon, and that I preach it over and over? I admit this to you, not so you can say, "Aha, I thought so; now I can stay home." I preach the same sermon over and over in the hope that we will hear the message; not just in the ears, not just intellectually, so if you are asked to state the Christian gospel you can remember my one sermon. No, I preach it over and over so you can hear it in the depths of your being; down in the emotions; down where the doubts reside; down deep within where the fears lurk; down with the nagging suspicion that you can't make it, or you're not good enough, or you don't belong anywhere; deep within where you feel lonely, discouraged, alone. I preach the same sermon over and over because its message--the message of the gospel--is so desperately needed by modern people. I believe this message wholeheartedly; so much so I've given my life to preaching it and spreading it throughout the world. I believe what humankind most desperately, and most essentially, needs is this sermon. I believe that everyone in this room this morning needs to hear and believe it.
Will you listen again to the message? Will you hear it? Will you hark? Hark is an old-fashioned word. "Hark, the herald angels sing." Few mothers today say, "Hark! Come to dinner." Few teachers say, "Hark! Here is the homework assignment." Hark is an old word which means listen, pay attention. "Hark, the herald angels sing" means "Listen to what the angels sang."
Young people; you who search for your future, wondering what to do with your lives, besieged with doubts and fears, feeling the heavy load of pressure this community places upon you to perform; young people, hark! Listen! Hear! There are many adults here this morning who have advanced degrees; but, deep down in the soul, we're all the same. We all have the same doubts and fears. We all struggle with identity and purpose. We all weep and worry. We all will die someday. And the same sermon, the same message, speaks to everyone. So, you who are "doctors" and have spent 16-20 years of your life in school, even you, hark! Listen! Hear!
Everyone, are you ready to listen to the same sermon, the same message again? Get ready, prick up your ears. Listen not only with your ears, listen with your inner ear. Listen with your emotions. Listen with your soul. Let the light shine way back in the dim, dark recesses, in the corners where you keep your most precious fears and doubts. Ready?
GOD LOVES YOU! That's it! God is in love with you. God loves everything about you; after all, he made you. God loves the color and depth of your eyes. God loves the color and texture of your skin; it's a beautiful skin. Why cover up the wrinkles? God loves your hair, and to some of you, God gave you a beautiful head not to be covered up with hair! God loves you, even when you are crotchety, temperamental, and obnoxious. God loves you; why pretend to be someone you are not? You are special; your birth was planned. Don't let anyone tell you your birth was an accident. Your birth was planned, planned in eternity. God wanted you on this earth at this time. You are beautiful. You are a child of God.
God loves you, and that love is called grace. Grace is the unmerited, unrestricted, undeserved love God has for you. You are saved by grace. You are judged by grace. Psalms 25:7 "Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to thy steadfast love, remember me." Grace is to be judged not by the wrongs, not by the sins, but on the basis of God's love towards us. God looks at you, judges you, evaluates you through the eyes of love.
Frederick Buechner defines grace:
Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing YOU have to do. There's nothing you HAVE to do. There's nothing you have to DO.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you ARE because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you.
There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift, too.
Fred Craddock tells a story. A family is out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. It is a pleasant afternoon, and they relax at a leisurely pace down the highway. Suddenly the two children begin to pound on their father's back: "Daddy, Daddy, stop the car! Stop the car! There's a kitten back there on the side of the road!"
The father says, "So there's a kitten on the side of the road. We're having a drive."
"But Daddy, you must stop and pick it up."
"I don't have to stop and pick it up."
"But Daddy, if you don't it will die."
"Well, then, it will have to die. We don't have room for another animal. We have a zoo already at the house. No more animals."
"But Daddy, are you just going to let it die?" "Be quiet, children;' we're trying to have a pleasant drive."
"We never thought our Daddy would be so mean and cruel as to let a kitten die."
Finally the mother turns to her husband and says, "Dear, you'll have to stop."
He turns the car around, returns to the spot and pulls off to the side of the road. He goes out to pick up the kitten. The poor creature is just skin and bones, sore-eyed, and full of fleas; but when he reaches down to pick it up, with its last bit of energy the kitten bristles, baring tooth and claw. Sssst! He picks up the kitten by the loose skin at the neck, brings it over to the car and says, "Don't touch it; it's probably got leprosy."
When they get to the house the children give the kitten several baths, about a gallon of warm milk, and intercede: "Can we let it stay in the house just tonight? Tomorrow we'll fix a place in the garage."
The father says, "Sure, take my bedroom; the whole house is already a zoo."
They fix a comfortable bed, fit for a pharaoh. Several weeks pass. Then one day the father walks in, feels something rub against his leg, looks down, and there is a cat. He reaches down toward the cat, carefully checking to see that no one is watching. When the cat sees his hand, it does not bare its claws and hiss; instead it arches its back to receive a caress. Is that the same cat? It's not the same as that frightened, hurt, hissing kitten on the side of the road. Of course not. And you know as well as I what makes the difference.
We are all like lost kittens. When God reaches out his hand to pick you up, smooth your ruffled fur, bathe you and give you warm milk; when God reaches out to you to save you, look at his hand. God's hand will be covered with scratches. Such is the hand of love, God's amazing grace.
We're in search of glory this Christmas, looking for glory as a Christmas gift. Glory begins with grace, which is also a gift--the undeserved, unmerited, unrestricted love of God for you.
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris