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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Are You Ready to Glorify?

Luke 2: 1-20

They were, you know, the very first Christians, these sheep herders at the margins of Jewish society. Scorned by polite society as shiftless and dishonest, shepherds grazed their flocks on land belonging to other people. Living out in the open, they were not welcomed into homes, synagogues, and marketplaces. They smelled like sheep, and that's not a good thing.

Into the darkness of the black Judean night there came a star, and then a light bursting upon the shepherds. An angel, followed by thousands upon thousands of angels, stood in the sky over them. The shepherds were terrified: the sight in the sky was not a being of great benevolence and beauty -- angels are frightening beings who guard the throne of God. The heavenly host are God's army, dressed for battle. For the shepherds, this was the end of the world.

The angel stood before and over them, and, Luke says, the glory of the Lord shone around them. Glory -- the Greek is doxos: it's the same word we use in that part of the worship service called the Doxology. It's hard to translate the word -- it means greatness -- praise -- reputation -- opinion -- dignity -- magnificence. Maybe it means -- WOW! The wow of the Lord was all around them.

Where's the wow in your life? What do you glorify? My dentist is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. Everything in his dental office is Carolina blue. The walls of the office are covered with Carolina sports posters. Every six months I know that while I'm lying in that chair, unable to respond because there are dental instruments in my mouth, I am going to listen to a nonstop dissertation on college basketball and football, about which I care not one whit. He's a great dentist, so I put up with his glorification of Carolina athletics. That, and the state of my teeth, are of first importance to my dentist.

I try to be a Baltimore Ravens fan, but I am so tired of Ray Lewis and other athletes putting on a show when they do what they're supposed to do -- make a tackle, score a touchdown, or catch a pass. In the end zone or standing over a tackled player, they glorify themselves. That's one of the reasons I love baseball so much more than football -- one of the unwritten rules of baseball is that if you hit a home run, you don't show up the pitcher. You drop your bat and run, head down, around the bases. If you show up the pitcher, the next time you or one of your teammates comes to bat, someone's going to get thrown at. You don't glorify yourself in baseball.

Christmas is probably the one time in the year when we can best measure what people glorify -- where they're looking for the wow. My son-in-law, a college professor of religious studies, says that Christmas is our culture's vision of the end of the world. Santa Claus is the Messiah who will come, like a thief in the night, to reward the good and punish the wicked. We will all get what we truly deserve -- that glorious thing that will make us say wow forever. I remember well the glories about to be revealed to me over the years -- a guitar, a tape recorder, a new guitar, a new tape recorder. I remember the year my mother gave Vicki and me a teddy bear for Christmas -- because if you put a teddy bear under the tree, next Christmas there'll be a baby under the tree. The next year, sure enough, there was a granddaughter under the tree. Two years later we gave my mother back the bear -- that was our way of telling her another baby was on the way. That was my mother's wow.

Where is our glory? What makes you say, wow? In the black church, there is a tradition of introducing a guest preacher with flowing praise, and then, when the preacher steps into the pulpit, the first words out of his or her mouth are first of all, I want to give honor and glory to my Lord Jesus Christ. That's a deflection of the glory away from the preacher and to Jesus. In the fall of 1988, Kern Eustler introduced the clergy of the Virginia Conference to their new bishop, Tom Stockton. Kern was brilliant at delivering long introductions of people, heaping glory upon glory upon their heads. After the long litany of praise, our new bishop bounded to the pulpit and said, "You know, I'm still not used to this Bishop title: I keep looking around to see who they're talking about." And then he told a joke about a hunting dog named Reverend, who was mistakenly called Bishop. It went to the dog's head, and afterwards all the dog ever did was sit on his tail and bark. After eight years of Bishop Goodson, who absolutely loved the glory of being bishop, and eight years of Bishop Blackburn, who hated being bishop, it was wonderful to have a humble bishop with a sense of humor who directed the glory somewhere else.

The angels sing of glory -- Glory to GOD in the highest. The wow of the angels is in God, and in what God is doing. That's what angels do -- that's why they're angels -- they spend eternity giving praise to the magnificence of God, and combating everything else that claims that same glory. They don't dance in the end zone when they score -- they run around the bases with their heads down, because the glory belongs to God and God alone.

The shepherds, confronted with the glory in the sky, do the only thing that makes any sense. They descend the hill and find the baby and his mother, just as the angels told them. They tell Mary and Joseph about what they've seen and heard. They don't praise themselves for their faithfulness or for the brilliance of their insight. They follow the trail of glory to the manger, fall on their knees, and glorify the baby and the God who sent him. And then the story ends like this: the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

That's the Christian life, brothers and sisters. We didn't make this story up; we didn't discern it by our great intellects and creativity. Someone sang us a song of a miracle God did down in the manger. We do the only thing that makes sense -- we follow the song to see for ourselves. And when we meet the love of God made flesh in the manger, or in a homeless family, or in the love of a Sunday School teacher, or in forgiveness extended and arms opened, we fall to our knees and worship. We repeat the story, getting it right. And then, we go back home, glorifying and praising God. Glorifying and praising -- God. Not ourselves, not things we can make or buy, not the things we do, not athletes or entertainers or politicians or pundits or artists or lovers -- we worship and glorify God. That's why in this simple story we see the whole life of faith encapsulated in twelve verses. Listen. Go. See. Worship. Tell. Return. Glorify.

So, tonight, listen once again. Go, see for yourself. Worship. Tell the story. Go back. Glorify the One who alone -- alone -- is worthy. Build your life around that glory, and none other.

Are you ready to glorify?

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