1. The grace and glory of God appearing to us
This week we’re covering Christmas Day and the two Sundays of Christmas (that’s from the Bible readings set in the Revised Common lectionary which many churches and chapels follow). The message that arises from this ‘Birth of the Saviour’ theme has three facets which are quite memorable as:
1. The grace and glory of God appearing to us
2. The grace and glory of God growing in us, and
3. The grace and glory of God being apparent in us
The full Bible reading references and links to Bible Gateway, are at the bottom of this post.
(1) THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD APPEARING TO US
Isaiah 9:2-7 — The appearance foretold by Isaiah
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…
You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor…
For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.Isaiah 9:2,4,6-7 (excerpted)
Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet ‘spoke forth’ God’s plans and purposes and created pictures of what God would be doing. Sometimes this pointed hundreds or thousands of years into the future. We exist within boundaries of time and space — living in our own city, town or village just as 2021 turns to 2022. Isaiah’s heavenly vision reached beyond those earthly boundaries.
Here he foretells how God’s grace and glory will appear at two different times. The first event, “to us a child is born, to us a Son is given,” happened at Bethlehem as Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, answering a summons to register for the Roman poll tax in Joseph’s place of origin.
The second, the coming of the “Prince of Peace…the greatness of [whose] government and peace there will be no end” is partly realised now, and partly yet to come in the event we await with excitement and trepidation, the end time when He returns in visible, glorious majesty.
Christians — believers in Jesus who have committed their lives to Him and who experience the inspiration and revealing work of the Holy Spirit in them — have a sense of His kingdom rule operating in their lives now. We pray for His will to be done, His government exercised, in situations we bring before Him now. The battle with evil was won at the Cross. However, like in a war that is won but with some on the vanquished side refusing to surrender, the residual conflict continues until Jesus comes again.
Those who believed and received Jesus when He came into the world the first time could know His just and caring rule and His peace. The gospel accounts showed these to be, for the most part, undistinguished and unpretentious people who were simply able to accept Jesus for who He was. Like the very first hearers of the Good News:
Luke 2:1-14 — shepherds first to hear good news
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby… An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”Luke 2: 8-10, 11-12
One of the extraordinary things, a sign in itself, was the first announcement of the Lord’s birth being made to people of the lowest social standing in a remote village. Not the scribes and scholars and people of power in Jerusalem. This first appearance of God’s grace and glory needed to be received by people who had no opportunity to exercise their human control over what God was doing.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”Luke 2:13-14
The people on whom God’s favour rests are clearly not the ‘city society’ of privilege and rank, but those who are best positioned to simply receive, believe and respond with gladness. This is the beginning of how “salvation to all people” was working out:
Titus 2:11-14 — growing
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.Titus 2:11-14
The offer of salvation to all people was still controversial among Jews, even a generation after the lifetime of Jesus. They thought salvation was their right, by reason of their ancestry in Abraham, and God’s ancient covenant with him. They had forgotten, or never really grasped, that their role was bound up with God’s mission:
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.Isaiah 49:6b NIV
The appearing of Jesus, who embodied God’s grace and salvation, broke the power of sin for all those who have responded to Him. And that brings now, an empowering to live for Him, to make choices and to say ‘no!’ to selfish and independent ungodliness:
“…to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…”…
while waiting for the grace and glory of God to make its full and final appearance when Jesus returns. How self-controlled, how upright? The life of the Spirit is not static — it is a work in progress as we become more free of the old life and attitudes, and grow in spiritual maturity. This is the grace and glory of God growing in us :
(2) THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD GROWING IN US
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 — Learning and growing
But Samuel was ministering before the Lord — a boy wearing a linen ephod. Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.
And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.1 Samuel 2:18-19, 26
The second part of the story is about how God’s grace and glory grows in those who belong to Him. The young Samuel, serving his apprenticeship in the tabernacle, is a good example. His growing in favour with Lord and with people are words we are about to see applied to Jesus in Luke’s gospel.
Luke 2:41-52 — Jesus debating
…They began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.
After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers…
…And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.Luke 2:44-47, 52
There is no suggestion in scripture that Jesus was born with all wisdom and knowledge. He emptied Himself of His divine nature to be born as man, and so there was a human need to grow and mature for Him, as there is for us. His parents were surprised to find Him, still a child, debating Scripture in the temple.
When it was God’s time for Him to start His public ministry, His cousin John was announcing it a hundred miles away in Judea, before He came to be baptised. Baptism is a turning from, or burial of, the old life and receiving the new — with the impartation of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live by God’s leading. So it is an intentional act and a submission (hardly something a small child could entertain) and it marks the beginning of a new stage, of us growing in God’s wisdom and spiritual stature. Unlike us, Jesus did not turn from sin, but he turned from His old way of life as an artisan, to submit to His Father’s unique call and mission and receive a special impartation or anointing of the Holy Spirit at His baptism.
Readers or hearers of Paul’s letter to believers in Colossae, would all be people who had considered who Jesus is, and what He has done to release us from the stranglehold of sin, choosing new life in Him (no doubt marked by public baptism and their account of their faith decision). But it doesn’t rest with our trusting Jesus as the One who has saved us, and who we count as the Lord of our life. He has given us His Spirit so that we can grow in this new life, putting on new and Spirit-led attitudes as this short passage from the letter to Christians in Colossae instructs us:
Colossians 3:12-17 — God’s people growing mature
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.Colossians 3:12-15
Setting out to do more in life of what is compassionate and kind, sounds like one of those old-style legalistic church homilies — you must try harder to do what is good and avoid what is bad. But it is not about trying harder, and ultimately not about “doing”. Jesus wants us to BE different by the renewing of our minds and attitudes.
… Be made new in the attitude of your minds; and… put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
… You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.Ephesians 4:23-24, Colossians 3:9-10
So when someone dismisses our faith, or speaks harshly or acts dishonestly — and it will happen! — we don’t need to react in the old way. Rather, the new self, mindful of being forgiven for all our own failings, chooses to put on a different set of attitudes — “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”.
As a result, this new self has a new nature, willing and able to “bear with… [others] and forgive…”
This bangs the door shut against the devil’s destructive and divisive moves. It is us choosing to be ruled by the peace of Christ.
It is a powerful game-changer made available to us because we are seeking to live with Jesus (not our feelings) as Lord.
We can do this because we are enabled to live differently — and distinctly with the grace and glory of God apparent in us. We proclaim it in our lives as well as words, as we hear from Jeremiah’s prophecy in the OT:
(3) THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD APPARENT IN US
Jeremiah 31:7-14— Hear the word
[The Lord says]: ”Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’…
…”They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord — the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the day flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.Jeremiah 31:10, 12
The message of the Lord’s salvation for all who turn to Him, is a message of joy and thanksgiving.
John 1:1-18 — The Word among us
The message of joy is centred on the Lord, who is the author of life and all that is good, choosing to move into our road — becoming our new neighbour!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.
In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world… To all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.John 1: 1-5, 9-10, 14
Christians — those who happy to testify that they belong to Jesus — know that the new self, the new nature and the new life that they possess is because they have renounced their old lives and their new lives are intimately bound up with the Lord Jesus through a spiritual bond. The old has gone and we have a new spiritual identity — who we now are “in Him”. There are over one hundred occurrences of the phrase “in Christ” or “in Him,” in the NT and the context is either trusting in Him or new life and identity in Him, which you might agree is much the same thing. Here we are reminded that we “were included in Christ” when we took to heart the message of truth about Him, and how this is like a marker in the spiritual realm:
Ephesians 1:1-14 — Word and Spirit the mark of believers
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of His glory.Ephesians 1:13-14
The Book of Revelation speaks of the end times when people will be compelled to carry “the mark of the beast”, a sinister prospect that reminds one of the tattoos given to holocaust prisoners. But this is the very opposite kind of mark, not visible but a spiritual ID promising redemption through being God’s possession.
So what is achieved by a mark that is not visible? But the point is, that it is visible, or at least spiritually apparent, to everyone else bearing the spiritual mark, and those who are becoming spiritually aware. Regenerate believers in Jesus stand out in various ways — having a different set of attitudes and values for one.
The grace and glory of God is not shown in man’s way of dressing differently or having a reverential kind of title. It is an inner beauty, an inner quality which is discerned — not by everyone, but by those who are open to the spiritual dimension of life and beginning to hear the call of the author of life.
It is sometimes said that the only Bible most people will read is us, and the opportunity they have to encounter Jesus is the Spirit of Jesus in us.
Until Jesus comes again, this is His grace and glory — the grace and glory of God — visible in us.
Bible readings and links
This article is based on The Living Word Bible Study for Dec 25-26 (Jan 2 separately) with the full Bible passages and verse by verse commentary and reflections. You can also pull up the Bible readings in a Bible version of your choice via these Bible Gateway links.
Isaiah 9:2-7 — Wayward Israel is where the glory of God shines
Luke 2:1-14 – Shepherds experience God’s glory in terror
Titus 2:11-14 — We grow in grace actively awaiting Christ’s return
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – Samuel grows in God’s favour
Luke 2:41-52 — Jesus is found with the teachers at the temple
Colossians 3:12-17 — God’s people are to grow in grace