The word “glory” is one of those Biblical words that we use a lot without necessarily contemplating what it really means. I know there’s a movie Glory about black soldiers fighting in the Civil War that I’ve never seen. In one of my favorite childhood Disney Channel movies, The Fighting Prince of Donegal, Prince Hugh says before the climactic battle, “The greatest glory shall go to him who takes the greatest risk.” And then of course, there’s the popular church hymn that says, “To God be the glory for the things He has done.”
In these uses, glory seems to mean “getting credit for doing something awesome.” In other words, glory is earned through doing noble deeds and it basically consists in talking about how awesome somebody is. I think this understanding of glory is partly right. But the psalm for this week of Advent, Psalm 85, gives a richer description of what God’s glory looks like when it comes to dwell among us:
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. [Psalm 85:9-11]
These verses describe what you might call a landscape of God’s glory. It is a world that is so permeated with God’s goodness that mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace become incarnate flesh. The ground produces a crop of faithfulness, while the clouds in the sky rain down righteousness. This psalm describes a world that is not just in harmony in the sense of everything working smoothly together, but rather an environment that is exploding with ecstatic joy that cannot be contained.
Where in the world does a place like this actually happen? How about in a barn in Bethlehem where grungy shepherds like us have gathered to worship at the manger of our messiah? Jesus is the personification of mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace in one human being. When we occupy the manger, these qualities become part of the air we breathe. They envelop us, consume us, and burst forth from us in ways beyond our control. We become part of God’s glory, not in the sense that it is our glory as some kind of possession or credit to us, but in the sense that we are swept into the contagious testimony of what God is doing in the world. And we start to see God’s glory everywhere, springing up from the ground and looking down from the sky.
So here’s the question for you this Advent: do you want to enter the room where the manger is, the place where God’s glory dwells? You cannot face God’s glory as a dispassionate observer, because it will conquer you. To enter the glory of God is to lose control of yourself and become pregnant with God’s mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace just like Mary was pregnant with Jesus. This “pregnancy,” if you will, is what the word joy means.