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“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry out to her….”
Advent is the time when we hear again the prophet Isaiah sing this song of hope over God’s people in exile. He sings it over us, too, as we wait in our own darkness and in the shadow of death.
The song builds to a crescendo: “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all the people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Is. 40:5).
The glory of the Lord–the radiant presence of God–shall be revealed. And we all shall see it.
But where shall we see it?
And what does it look like, this glory?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this over past several weeks as we stumble in the dark through Advent.
Will the glory of God appear in pillars of fire and smoking clouds? In thunderclaps and flashes of lighting? In the roar of wind and the rumble of earthquakes? In the majesty of temples rebuilt and the pomp and circumstance of religious pageantry? In zealous culture warriors and political victories?
Where shall we see this glory?
What if we’re looking in the wrong places.
What if we’re facing the wrong direction.
What if we miss it.
I tell you the truth: I saw it.
I saw God’s glory revealed this Advent, and it’s not where or what you’d expect.
Let me tell you a story that happened two weeks ago.
I get the phone call on a Monday night. From a married couple in my church—beautiful people whom I love deeply. They are heading to the ER. Their adopted daughter, with a history of trauma—a history of unspeakable things done to her that would make you cry—had been triggered. This happens regularly. Usually they can help de-escalate her PTSD, recover some sense of calm in the storm. But they couldn’t on this night. Things went from bad to worse.
So the police came, and their social worker, and they brought their daughter to the ER.
I jump in my car and go to see them—to just be with them. Because this is what a pastor does. Most of the time this is all I know how to do. You sit with people in their pain.
When I get there, the two of them are outside their daughters’ room, holding each other, eyes puffy and red. I see the scratches on his arms, his hands. I embrace them. We all weep. They love their daughter. But the road they’re on has been so hard, harder than they ever would have imagined. Harder than most people know or can understand. They are exhausted.
We go into the hospital room to see their daughter, the three of us together.
She is sitting up in bed. Her hair is disheveled. Her cheeks pale and stained with tears. Her eyes vacant. The body keeps the score, and this score is not fair. It’s not her fault. None of it. The world can be a brutal place.
And then I see it. There, burning bright, right in front of me.
The glory of God.
Her parents, weary and tired, huddle around her, hold her tight in a hug—all three of them clinging to each other—and they whisper over her and into her shame-infested heart: “We love you. You are our daughter. Always and forever. No matter what happens, remember: In our house, every day is an ‘I love you day.’”
Nobody else sees it, this holy moment hidden in a room on the ER wing of a small hospital on the edge of a small town. But I get to see it. “See, your God comes!” Isaiah declares.
Love incarnate. Light cutting through darkness. Defiant hope birthed in pain. Glory veiled in the flesh, with healing in his wings.
And like Moses tucked in the crevice of the mountain, I need to look away because the glimpse of the glory passing before me is more than I can bear–a love this beautiful and fierce.
In a poem titled “On the edge,” the poet Malcom Guite writes,
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.
And from this day our world is re-aligned;
a tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The End begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.
Where are you looking for God’s glory this Advent?
Are you looking in the right places, facing the right direction?
I tell you: It’s not where you expect.
Don’t miss it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14