That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)
The last two posts on this passage talked about the two obvious subjects, the shepherds who were tending their flocks and the angel whose appearance terrified them. It was only a few years ago I came upon what may be the most important subject, translated here as “the Lord’s glory.” To understand the significance of this glory that surrounded the shepherds, let’s look back at some events in the Old Testament.
You all remember when Moses led the Israelites in their escape from Egypt? Sure, you’ve seen the movie version with Charlton Heston, right? They crossed the Red Sea and camped at the base of Mount Sinai. The writer of Exodus tells us, “Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire.” Exodus 24:15-18 (NLT). This is the first time we hear about God’s glory or “shekinah.”
Later, the Israelites built the Tabernacle, as God had instructed Moses, to be the place where they would offer their sacrifices to God and where God would talk to Moses face-to-face. When they dedicated the Tabernacle, “the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” Exodus 40:34-35 (NLT)
Around 500 years later, a new generation of Israelites witnessed God’s glory when Solomon dedicated the Temple, “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord, the priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of the Lord.” 1 Kings 8:10-11 (NLT)
On these three occasions, when God showed up, it was evidenced by his shekinah glory.
What we see in the years following the dedication of the temple is a steady decline in the Israelite’s devotion to God. Finally, about 400 years after it was dedicated, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Israelites were led out of Jerusalem into captivity in Babylon. The temple was rebuilt under Zerubbabel, but God did not show up in glory. King Herod also built a temple for the Jews. The main building of Herod’s temple was completed around the time Jesus was born. But, again, when the temple was opened, God didn’t show up in glory.
So, what was God waiting for? That’s what the Israelites wanted to know. They had not heard from God for 400 years. Solomon’s temple was destroyed, the Ark of the Covenant was gone, the prophets were silent. They had lost hope.
But then it happened. God showed up. This time it was not in the desert around a tabernacle built by Moses or in Jerusalem at a magnificent temple built by Solomon. God met a group of shepherds in a field outside a place that, a thousand years before, had been King David’s home town. The third subject in this passage I had missed for all those years was God himself. God was there when the angel announced that God was coming back to earth as a baby in a manger. And, as before, God’s appearing was accompanied by his glory. The glory, that covered Mt. Sinai, descended on the tabernacle, and filled the temple, had come to Bethlehem.
May you experience God’s glorious presence this Christmas.
To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net. When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail. The other posts in this series are:
The Shepherds: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-shepherds/)
The Angel: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-angel/