Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Impact of Man and the Glory of God

Sermon Preached at St Mary and St Eanswythe, Dartford on 29th December 2012

What do you imagine when you hear tell of the Shepherds abiding in the fields watching their flocks by night? How does this familiar (perhaps a little over-familiar) passage strike us as we hear it for the umpteenth time? Think of it, a handful of Israeli shepherds huddled in the cool of the night, one playing his little reed-pipe, his tune punctuated by the bleating of the sheep and the gentle munching of clumps of grass. All is calm, all is bright. And then, the Glory of the Lord! How do you see that Glory in your head? Is it just a burning bright light? If so, then somehow, you must account for this light being specifically the Glory of the Lord. You somehow have to differentiate between that light and, say, the floodlights at Wembley Stadium or the glare of a 100W bulb being switched on first thing after a night’s sleep. How do you do that? How do you turn a brilliant light into the Glory of God – infinite, omnipotent, ineffable?

The Glory of the Lord!

Do we understand what Glory really is? [PAUSE]

The Israelites first meet the Glory of the Lord in the cloud following their Exodus, then later as a consuming fire on a mountain top. So Glory is not exclusively peculiar to a shining light, but Glory is certainly something we associate with God. We hit that usual problem: how on Earth can we talk about the Lord God in a way that we can understand and yet do justice to His Unique Being? As usual, we look at what “glory” means in the context of Man and then draw the analogy upwards as far as we can to Our Heavenly Father.

So what can we say about the Glory of Man?


Perhaps we think of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Perhaps we hear the trumpets and the sound of the choir singing Handel’s Zadok the Priest. Perhaps we see Archbishop Fisher placing the crown upon the head of a young woman - St Edward’s crown – weighing a hefty 4 pounds. What a weight! Is that an occasion at which we would say we had seen something glorious?

In fact, Her Majesty’s experience of the heavy crown gets us very close to what glory means. The root of the word in Hebrew is that of weight and impact. The glory of a boxer is the imprint of his fist in his opponent’s nose. The glory of an architect is the sense of awe that we feel when we stand at the bottom of The Shard in London and look up. The glory of a Queen is the impact the sight of her has on us when she is full regalia. These are, however, superficial factors – mere appearances. What is the true Glory of Man?


If we start to look closely at the impact that Man has had on the world, then we quickly see the problem. Most ecologists would quite readily attribute the climate change to the result of Man’s influence.

If we look at our glorious monarchs then, just this week, we see the murderous rage of a King so paranoid and intent upon holding on to his fleeting power that he kills little children. In the past few weeks we have seen that happen again in America!

Even today, we remember St Thomas of Canterbury, struck down in his cathedral for daring to stand up to the glory of a king armed only with the glory of God.

Look at how fleeting the impact of Man is, how readily it decays or is corrupted. Look at how the same Church that St Thomas of Canterbury tried to protect has become riddled with heresies and schisms and hatreds and political ambitions. The weight of Gothic architecture has had to give way to the more humble setting of the upper room or the municipal catacombs. This, then, is the Glory of Man.

Where, then , is the glory of God? How on earth can we find anything in our glory to associate with the Glory of God? Can there be any similarity?


Of course there is, but never where you’d expect to find it! God is not a tame god!

Where is the glory of God that the shepherds see?

A tiny baby in a donkey’s trough?

Oh yes! It might not look glorious in our superficial sense, but the impact of that baby is immense! How can it be that two millennia later, we are still talking about that baby. That’s glory! That baby has had more impact on this world than any other child born to woman. We still feel the full force of that birth and, some thirty years later in His life, we feel the force of His ignominious death on a Cross, followed by the greatest moment since the creation of the world, namely its redemption in the glory of the Resurrection! Now that is the Glory of God!

Does it shine? Well yes it does, because it illuminates our understanding and fires our hearts. It causes us to want to work and live and spread the word, even when we’re few in number and tired and disheartened by the glory of the world weighing on us. The glory of God does shine in us if we let it. The yoke of God’s glory is easy and His burden is light. We still have to lift this weight, this impact, this glory, but we do so with the support of the Christ-Child. The glory of God does indeed shine in our world. Does it shine through us?

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