There are just a few weeks until Christmas. If your first reaction to that statement was anxiety over things not done, plans not carried out -- if you do not have the "spirit of Christ" but have become dis-spirited by Christmas -- welcome to the crowd. It is a cliche, but with more than a modicum of truth. In the busyness, hustle and panic of this season, it is difficult to be still even for a moment to hear the strange message coming through a crackling department store sound system: "Glory to God in the highest ...."
What can it mean? Is there a word here in all the pagan celebration about the deepest things in life? It's a major victory if we just take the time to ask, even if we feel there really are no answers. We believe it is like the reporter asking a man, "What is the secret of living to one hundred years of age?" His response was, "Well, you get to be ninety-nine and then you are very, very careful." That seems to be the highest vision, "just getting through" not only Christmas but life itself.
Is there a higher vision than that? The Spanish philosopher Unamuno said, "May God deny you peace but give you glory." He was speaking to people who want more out of life than being careful or just getting through it. For there are those who have a zest for life, who seek the glory of being fully alive now.
In addition to experiencing all of life's exciting sights, sounds, smells, there is a need to do or produce something that goes beyond life. "Will I be remembered by something I did, achieved, contributed? Will it be by something that lives on in my children?" This is a quest for glory, though we may not call it that, which launches into the hurly burly, grabbing for all the "gusto" we can.
What we seem to grab is air. The glory we long for is real, but it cannot be wrested from the gods as Prometheus' fire. For the first thing we must know is that glory comes from God.
Glory does not come from piling up our accomplishments and then standing astride those achievements so all can see us. It comes from seeing the glory of God. Once you have seen it, you are never really the same again. That was Isaiah 35
; looking past exile and estrangement he could say, "They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God." Whatever that glory is, it seems to have the power to startle those who see it, from exiles to shepherds.
When I was in high school, our youth group would sometimes go on a retreat. We went to a beautiful place called "Uplook Lodge." One of the adults with us did not seem to fit the youth leader stereotype. He was Harvard-educated, very successful in business, yet the reserved, dignified type. He shocked us one morning by arising at dawn (we had just gone to sleep after talking all night) and exclaiming at the top of his lungs, "Glory, glory!," at what he had seen in the sunrise. Aberrant behavior? Perhaps it was like William Blake being asked if when he saw the sun he saw a disk the size of a small coin. He said, "Oh no, I see a multitude of the heavenly host singing and praising the Lord."