And the glory of the LORD shone around them. Luke 2:9
An angel of the LORD appeared in the night sky that holy night so long ago. This angel was sent on a mission to make an announcement on behalf of God. He had just left the very Presence of God and now was on the earth. In a field in Bethlehem. He had one express purpose – to announce that the silence of 400 years had been broken.
In thinking about this silence, there is a weighted sense of waiting. Israel had been waiting. Waiting to hear from God. At the end of the Old Testament, they had just celebrated the rededication of the wall around the Temple in Jerusalem. Then there were some sin issues that Nehemiah addressed and provided solutions. We do know of other events that happened in these intervening years between the Old Testament and the New, but they are considered historical, but extra-biblical. We do know that Herod built a new Temple – a gorgeous Temple that was the pride of Israel. We also know that Israel was honoring the Temple, honoring the Sabbath and trying to live a pious life. When we open the New Testament we see evidence of the high priest, the priests, Levites, and scribes, Pharisees among others, living in Jerusalem.
What we don’t see is the waiting. But one can feel it. It is palpable. God had not spoken for 400 hundred years. That is a excruciatingly long time. Longer than the United States has been the United States. Picture the waiting. Day in, and day out. A longing to hear from God. Doing the sacrificial requirements as stated in the Law, honoring the Sabbath, raising children according to the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6. Every day waiting.
And here in the New Testament, in the gospel of Luke, God sends a messenger from His throne room – His Presence. Gabriel, the angel, was sent to announce the coming Messiah. The long-awaited One. The Messiah had just been born in a lowly stable and it is GOOD NEWS. Gabriel comes down over the fields of Bethlehem to an unsuspecting group of shepherds. I bet these shepherd boys were surprised. Probably for the rest of their lives they remembered this night and talked about it in their comings and goings until the end of their days.
These shepherds had just had a long day tending sheep. The sheep used for the sacrifices at the Temple. The shepherds had been in the elements all day, and had finished up their simple supper. The sheep were bedded down chewing their cud. It was quiet – finally. There was some small talk around the humble fire, but for the most part, just a groups of guys winding down for the night. They had a job that required them to work from sunup to sundown. Or, if the sheep were like our sheep that we have in our pasture, probably before the sun rise. Every day they put in a full and complete day of tending sheep. As the day was waning they watched the night sky every night. Probably falling asleep out in the open to see the marvelous display of God’s handiwork. It was what they could do and for lack of anything else, did do. Every night.
The skies proclaim the glory of God. Psalm 19:1
Ah, but little did they know what was coming to them on this particular night. What awaited them on this holiest of nights. God’s glory would shine even brighter on this night. In fact, the glory of the Lord shone around them – these humble shepherd boys. They were enveloped with God’s glory. God’s glory was revealed to these shepherds in their humility. A shepherd whose job it is to wait, all day and every day with sheep for company, had the most spectacular sight that was life altering. Each one had seen the glory of the Lord. What a spectacular sight to have beheld.
Another time God revealed His glory was with Moses in Exodus 3. The burning bush. The Angel of the LORD was in that bush and it was on fire. And the bush was not consumed. An incredible sight for sure. Later on in Moses' life, he has another encounter with God’s glory. In Exodus 33:17-34:9. This is my favorite passage in all of the Bible. Moses has a conversation with God that results in God revealing His glory to Moses. But he had to hide in a cleft of a rock to see it.
What exactly is a cleft? About a month ago, I really dived into this word. Its technical definition is SPLIT. As in a cleft palate – split palate. Therefore, a split in a rock. A place where a rock climber can stick his fingers to proceed up the rock. It can be just a sliver of a cleft, or larger. And in this case of Moses, more the size of a boulder, like granite, as can be found in Yosemite – think Half Dome.
God put Moses in this cleft while His glory walked by. God covered Moses in this cleft so he could not look upon God’s face. And when He had passed by, God removed His hand so Moses could see the back of God. WOW. It gives me chicken flesh every time I read this event. Imagine seeing God’s glory – even from behind? The magnificent glory of God was all around. It was brilliant. Just as we see in Luke, it envelopes its surroundings. It is bright. Like the burning bush, it grabs attention. And God is in the very midst of this.
So, how does this affect you? Or me? God never changes, in fact, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:5) So, He still is in the business of revealing His glory. Take a gander at the night sky. There you will see His glory every single night. His glory is also revealed in mankind because we are made in the image of God. His glory is revealed in the church – the church that displays God’s love being fleshed out. His glory is revealed in suffering. Turns out, the longer my suffering goes on, the more I see of His GLORY. (This is a Bible Study for you on this very subject.) His glory is revealed in His Word. In a sweet encouragement from a friend. A song, as sung right now in this Advent season, O Holy Night.
May we be willing to be put in a cleft so we can see His glory. That cleft can be suffering. But, that cleft is IN Christ Jesus, our Rock. And, it is here, that we see God’s glory. In Jesus. Being in Jesus we will be shown all that God has for us. His glory. May we look for it.