13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The early morning street sounds are the same. Here in Phnom Penh its a morning no different than most other mornings. There are sounds of car and motorbike horns as they make their way through the narrow streets of our neighborhood. There are trucks at the construction materials ‘store’, across the street, being loaded, by a front-loader, with sand, rocks or bricks for the work that’s on today’s agenda. The street vendors are making their way up and down the street with bells and noise-makers announcing their approach and tinny sounding prerecorded messages broadcasting their particular products, fruit, eggs or loaves of bread. And so it is very much a normal day.
Its much the same as it likely would have been on that morning in Bethlehem. Aside from the very few who were aware of the birth of a particular baby (some shepherds, 3 traveling magi, Herod, Mary and Joseph) it would be a day like any other in the town. Some others would slowly become aware of the event as the shepherds (the first missionaries?) recounted their encounter with the angels to those that they knew. For the most part though it was a low-key event that marked the beginning of a world-changing life. The incarnation, God in a physical human form. Few knew of the event and those few that knew really did not yet fully grasp the significance and probably, as did Mary, tucked it away “and pondered it”. Aside from the appearance of the angels to the shepherds there really wasn’t much glory involved. No pomp and circumstance, no spectacular fireworks display above the manger. Very few others would have been aware or even had any reason to expect the significance of that particular day. It was not, by normal definition, glorious.
Being here in a different culture gives an opportunity to ‘ponder’ the significance of that event as well. Because for the vast majority of those around us life goes on as usual today. For us, except for what we import ourselves, all of the peripheral activity and traditions are forcibly stripped away. For those around us, there is no ‘Black Friday’ shopping, no urgency to find the best/most for the least, no hours spent decorating house and tree, no schedule full of parties, no ‘hustle and bustle’, no candlelight services, no Silent Night. And in this environment I ‘ponder’. Why were the angels praising God? What was the big deal? Was it the baby? Or something else?
I think something else. The baby is a beginning. Not the end, but the first giant step towards completion. All the magnificence and splendor that we impose on the occasion belies the unassuming humbleness of it. Its easy to stop at baby Jesus in the manger and focus on that event, but that is only one aspect of the much larger picture. Its in the larger picture which surrounds this humble beginning, that God shows His faithfulness. His promise to provide a way to set the world right begins in humbleness, in a manger, with a baby. And there lies the magnificence. The glory. Its not in the humbleness through which it occurs and its not just in the baby Himself (worthy as He is to receive it), but its in the proof, again, of God’s faithfulness to His promises. He promised a Messiah, salvation, and He delivered, faithfully. There is the glory.
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
As you participate in all that this holiday season entails, the events, the bright colors and family gatherings be sure to remember that God is faithful in All His promises. From the small (His personal promise to Simeon) to the large (His promise of making salvation available to all). From the birth of the Messiah to the ushering in of His Kingdom, the promises and prophecies of God are always fulfilled. He is Always faithful.
Therein lies the glory of it all.
Glory to God in the highest!!