Bible & Theology

Contending For the Glory of the Lord at Christmas

Why did Jesus come? Why Advent? However we answer that question, it will lead us to the cross: Jesus came to die. But why did Jesus die? To save us from our sins? Why does Jesus save us from our sins? There is only one place to which this why-quest can ultimately lead: God himself. Second Corinthians 4:15 reveals that everything which God does for our sake, he does with his glory in view. The supreme end is “to the praise of the glory of his grace…that we should be to the praise of his glory…unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14, emphasis added). God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of Advent, and it is the believer’s supreme delight.

The glory of God is at least two things in Scripture: (1) the manifest presence of God and (2) the excellence of God’s character. When Moses uttered those sublime words “show me thy glory,” God responded with both a glimpse of his brilliant presence and a declaration of his name. In Advent, we see (1) God’s presence uniquely manifest and (2) his attributes clearly on display. From Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy to John’s prologue on the incarnate Word, every Advent passage is saturated with God’s revelation of his glory.

The Glorious Manifest Presence of God

Isaiah 40:5 prophesies of Messiah’s arrival: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” In Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), we experience a peculiar glory that does not crush or consume the unholy ones in its presence, but extends life and healing. In Jesus, the fearsome glory of the Holy of Holies is able to be cradled by a virgin and touched by an unclean leper. In confounding form, the Person of Jesus Christ is the fullest manifestation of God’s personal presence.

In John 1, that incomparable Advent passage, are written some of the most familiar and yet striking words of the Holy Scriptures: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (v.14). Literally, He “set up his tabernacle in our midst.” In the Old Testament, the dazzling light at the burning bush, in the pillar of fire, on Mount Sinai, and at the dedication of the tabernacle and temple revealed the awful fact of the Divine nearness, but the eye of believing men saw the real glory of the Logos made flesh when he set up the tabernacle of his humanity among us (Pulpit Commentary, paraphrase).

“The glory of God” is radiant “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). No longer do we behold the glory from afar. Advent brings an unobstructed view of Christ so that Paul can truly write that “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Charles Wesley reveled, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity.” Surely “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

[For the] dear Son…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell. (Colossians 1:15-19, emphasis added)

A. W. Tozer writes that we have lost our sense of God’s majesty and with it “the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.” There is no better time than Advent to reclaim our God-consciousness, majesty-awareness, and all-consuming zeal for His glory.

The Glorious Excellence of God’s Character

Most of Tozer’s famous work on God’s attributes, The Knowledge of the Holy, could be rewritten in terms of Advent. For in the fulness of time, as an act of supreme goodness, grace, mercy, and covenant faithfulness, the all-powerful God, sovereign over history, commenced His eternally foreordained plan of justifying sinners through an amazing act of Trinitarian cooperation: the incomprehensible incarnation of Jesus. In Advent, we see…

THE GLORY OF GOD’S INCOMPREHENSIBILITY

The incarnation is the transcendent mystery of Advent. “As to any explanation of it,” said Charles Spurgeon, “no man should venture thereon, for it remaineth among the deep things of God—one of those solemn mysteries indeed, into which the angels dare not look, nor do they desire to pry into it—a mystery which we must not attempt to fathom, for it is utterly beyond the grasp of any finite being. As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ. (Athanasian Creed).

THE GLORY OF GOD’S TRANSCENDENCE AND IMMANENCE 

If the incomprehensibility of the incarnation points to God’s transcendence, the reality of the incarnation certainly points to His abiding immanence. He came as a child, while continuing to be the Most High, filler of the universe. C. S. Lewis writes that “God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.” He is as transcendent as the fiery sun and as immanent as its warm rays, glowing against our faces. He is still Lord, and He is still Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23); for as it is written, “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezekiel 37:27).

THE GLORY OF GOD’S OMNIPOTENCE

In the incredible miracle of the virgin birth, God not only ensures the sinlessness of His Son, but testifies to His own almightiness. After the Annunciation, the angel declares, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). Tozer writes, “Since He has at His command all the power in the universe, the Lord God omnipotent can do anything as easily as anything else. All His acts are done without effort.”

THE GLORY OF GOD’S TRINITY

The Trinitarian presence is no less evident in Advent than it is at Christ’s baptism or in the Great Commission. In Luke 1:35, the angel said to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (emphasis added). (If Jesus is the Son of the Highest, the Highest must be the Father.)

The Father-Son relationship is also striking in Luke 1:32, where we learn that “the Lord” will give to Jesus the throne of David. Who is “the Lord”? In verse 43, Elizabeth recognizes Jesus as the Lord. The only way to understand how the Lord can give dominion to the Lord is if Jesus is with God (the Lord, the Father) and yet is fully God (the Lord, the Son). For “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). He is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father” (Nicene Creed).

John Wesley also saw the Trinity in Luke 1:15, noting that “the Lord” is “God the Father” and that “of the Holy Ghost and the Son of God mention is made immediately after.” Moreover, in Luke 1:41-47, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit to bless the Son in Mary’s womb, after which Mary magnifies the Lord. Even in Matthew’s birth account, references to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are freely made.

The prolific Trinitarian allusions in the Christmas story are especially revealing about the preeminence of God’s glory in Advent. Christ, the sunrise from on high, shines light on the mystery of the Trinity, which was veiled in the Old Testament. Nothing is more central to God’s glory than His Trinitarian nature.

THE GLORY OF GOD’S HOLINESS

Mary asserts, “holy is his name” (Luke 1:49). The angel declared, “the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The familiar aspect of God’s holiness — His absolute purity and moral perfection — carries the expectation that we will serve Him “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:75)

Wesleyan theologian Charles W. Carter writes of another aspect of God’s Holiness: His otherness. “When Christian faith speaks of God, it means that Wholly Other One who has freely chosen to disclose Himself.” Both aspects of God’s holiness are exalted as the Son is set apart as sinless and wholly-other by a supernatural birth; this birth is simultaneously the full disclosure of the Godhead. We see the Son and cry with the seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

THE GLORY OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

It is in the hands of the Lord God to give unto Jesus “the throne of his father David” and to guarantee His “reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 work in chorus with the fulfillment of prophecy to forever settle the question of God’s sovereignty over history. The Lord orchestrated the arrival of the Promised Seed (Genesis 3:15) even before the foundation of the earth (Revelation 13:8).

In the ninth line of Mary’s Magnificat, she exalts the Lord by declaring that “He has shown strength with his arm.” What kind of strength is this? It is the strength of His sovereignty, for “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” Only a sovereign God, with supreme and ultimate power, is able to raise up and bring down peoples and kingdoms as He pleases.

THE GLORY OF GOD’S IMPARTIALITY AND JUSTICE

God’s impartial holiness is expressed in that “He hath scattered the proud…put down the mighty…and exalted them of low degree” (Luke 1:51-52) — those of low degree, like the Nazarene couple, poor shepherds, and an eighty-four-year-old widowed prophetess. The Lord “shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands” (Job 34:19). The good news is for “all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:31-32). “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14) “Glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:10-11).

THE GLORY OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS

Zechariah prophesied:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:…To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham. (Luke 1:68-73)

The faithful remnant in Israel saw the salvation of the Lord and was glad. Mary affirms, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55). In the temple, Simeon blessed God for the Messiah, “the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Anna “gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Jehovah is a covenant keeping God.

THE GLORY OF THE FULNESS OF THE GODHEAD

Many other things could be said of God’s wisdom, eternality, mercy, providence, beauty, and love, but “I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 1:25). Advent invites us to a lifelong exploration of the boundless mystery of the Godhead — the glory of God in the Person of Jesus Christ.

A Peculiar Glory

Marshall Segal writes, “None of us would have written the Christmas story the way God did — and none of us would change a thing.” The mingling of the simple and the supernatural speaks volumes about the peculiar goodness and glory of God. For Mary, a village girl from Nazareth, to see God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and holiness on display in Advent is a testament to the plain message God was sending about Himself through His Word, His Son, the great glory-revealer and glory-speaker of these last days (Hebrews 1:1-2).

We join the shepherds in “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20) and say with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:14)


Resources

  1. Carter, Charles W. A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1983.
  2. Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978.
  3. Wesley, John. Notes on the Gospel According to St. Luke.