Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

 Discerning the Heart of God
“A Strange Glory”

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2008

 

 

John 1: 1-18

Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder


“We have seen his glory,” the Gospel of John says, “We have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.”

 

What is the glory John has seen? Just what is the glory that John is talking about here?

 

It surely is not the glory of Jesus’ physical appearance because the writer of the Gospel of John would have never seen Jesus in person. The Gospel of John was written 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The writer of John would not have seen Jesus in his physical body when he walked the earth.

 

Isn’t it odd that nowhere in the Gospels does it give us the very least hint what Jesus looked like. For us who put so much emphasis on appearance, it is hard to understand that four Gospels could be written about Jesus and not one of them has a single word in them about what Jesus looked like. Not one word.

 

We do not know if he was handsome or pretty or manly or slender or thick or short or tall. We do not know the shade of his hair or the color of his eyes. Apparently by the time the Gospels were written, Jesus’ followers could have cared less about his physical appearance. This is hard for us to understand, we who are so obsessed by our looks.

 

When John says “We have seen his glory, full of grace and truth,” he is not talking about Jesus’ physical appearance.

 

Neither is he talking about Jesus’ life, which he had not seen either. Jesus’ life was glorious only in retrospect. In real time it was as day-to-day as all our lives are, and probably worse. Like our lives, it consisted of being well received sometimes and rejected other times, succeeding one day and failing the next, going to parties some days and eating raw corn plucked from a field another day.

 

Certainly Jesus’ life doesn’t end gloriously.

 

Jesus’ life had more to do with the stable of Bethlehem and the garage dump called Calvary than with the angels singing. The angels could be heard only in retrospect. Jesus’ life was as daily as all of our lives are. Whatever glory there was in Jesus’ life on earth was not apparent at the time he lived it.

 

What glory is it, then, that John is talking about? Perhaps it was the church that emerged after Jesus’ death? A small band of followers who had survived Jesus had grown steadily until by the time the Gospel of John was written there were congregations throughout the Greek-speaking world. Was the church Jesus left behind Jesus’ glory?

 

Probably not. The church was not a very glorious movement in those days. It was conflicted, divided, subject to false teachings, misinterpretations, literalism, and the abuses of ego-driven pastors and controlling laity. Read the letters of the Apostle Paul and the letters of John. These letters are full of conflict, schism, and acting out. The church was just not very glorious in those days. I’m not sure it is now when you get past the smoke and the mirrors.    

 

So if it was not Jesus’ appearance or his lived life or the church he left behind, what is the glory full of grace and truth that John has seen?

 

Well, it is the only glory that any of us can see, really. It was the glory of Christ inside John. It was the glory of Christ John could see in his own heart and in his own life and in his own spirit.  

 

John writes: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1: 16) John’s inner being has been filled with grace, filled with glory. It is not a glory that the world can see. John makes this point. “He came into the world,” he says, “but the world did not know him.” John 1:10.

 

Someone told me not long ago about a survey that was taken among high school seniors a couple of years ago. Do you know what the number one hope and desire of high school students for their future was? What did high school graduates want out of life more than anything else? Take a guess in your head. If anyone gets the right answer, see me after the service and I’ll give you cash money, so long as you haven’t heard about the survey before.

 

According to this survey, more than anything else, the graduating students surveyed wanted to someday become famous. More than affluence, more than power, more than marriage and parenthood, more than satisfying work, more than anything, they wanted to be famous.

 

Well, that is what we have taught them, isn’t it, in an age of media saturation? We’ve taught our young people, some of them, that what matters is the glory of the spotlight.

 

John found in Christ another glory. It is not the glory of being interviewed on CNN or in the Post. It is not the glory of popularity or the esteem of others. It is not the glory of being admired for our achievements or affluence.

 

The glory that John found in Jesus was the glory of knowing that he was in Christ and Christ was in him.

 

The nativity stories are about nobodies: a teenage peasant girl, a poor carpenter, a boy born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn, shepherds, gentiles, and long-forgotten old people. The only “somebody” in the story is the king who is a villain.

 

The whole point of the story is that there is another history being written other than the history we read in the history books we get in school or buy at amazon.com. It is a history being written in the heavens, in the heart and mind of God.  

 

The heroes and stars of this story are women, men and children who often get no glory here. Nobody applauds them, nobody wants their autograph, but they are caring and kind and nonjudgmental and honest and courageous in quiet ways. Though they are the least in the kingdoms of this world, they are the most glorious citizens of the kingdom of Christ.  

 

We worry about all sorts of things, you and I, we who are so attached to the glories of this world. We wish we were better looking or smarter. We wish, maybe, we weren’t gay or in a wheel chair or from the south.  We wish we weren’t single or that we had had different parents. We wish we were more successful by now or, failing that, at least younger. Think about the things you wish were different in your life.

 

Turns out, those aren’t the really important things. The important things are to love and care for the people God has given us in our lives to love…to do our work in a way that makes the world more inclusive and more just…to have compassion on the stranger, the alien, the poor and the lonely...to speak the truth as it is given to us…to set limits on those who try to hurt others. This is Christ’s glory in us. This is the glory of the history being written in eternity. This is Christ’s glory in you and in me.     

 

 

 

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