Sunday morning I went to worship with my wife. As usual the sermon was excellent, the liturgy challenging and the fellowship a blessing. What towered above the rest, as is often the case at this time of the year, was the music. The Hand bell Choir offering a prelude of “Joy to the World” was followed by a soaring introit – “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” Together we traveled with the angels. The words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” come from the Latin version of Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the Highest.” After lighting the Advent wreath, we listened in rapt attention to “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.” The music was and is beautiful but the line that caught my attention is the refrain sung over and over: “He come from the glory, He come from the glorious Kingdom.” As if to emphasize that phrase, after it is repeated twice, there comes a short three-word musical emphasis, “Oh, Yes, believer.” Then, “He come from the glory, He come from the glorious Kingdom” is repeated twice more. Even now writing three days later, I am swept away by the power of the music and the import of the words. Together the Children’s Choir and the Chancel Choir graced us (there is no other appropriate phrasing) with a song I was less familiar with, “How Far is it to Bethlehem?” As I listened I thought again of the seminary lesson from Dr. Ogden, “we do theology (that is talk about God) in order that we might do doxology (that is praise God). Here in the music led by both Children and Chancel choirs, the two were gloriously reunited. And without even trying a derivation of the word glory reappears. I dare say that I could travel across the Central Texas Conference and even around the world at this time of year and come again and again to a celebration of God’s glory in Christ’s birth in a Bethlehem stable. Instinctively Christians around the world know “glory’s” majestically wonderful appropriateness. The theologian in me just has to pause and probe the meaning of “glory.” Why is this word and its related phrases so central to our expression of worship in the season of Advent, of preparation for the Savior’s coming, and the following celebration of Christ’s birth? Modest research can take us far. In The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (a marvelous five volume set put out by the United Methodist Publishing House – Abingdon Press) it is noted that the word “glory” has both an objective and subjective sense (hang with me, the technicalities are important!). Subjectively “glory” refers to the object of worship. It points us back to God. When we sing “glory to God in the highest” we are giving full-throated acclamation that the Lord is God alone. God alone is worthy of our unqualified and unmitigated praise. Think of it as the Pledge of Allegiance on steroids. No wonder the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!” (Luke 2:14). Objectively, the word “glory” “denotes the object of worship (i.e., God’s revealed presence, God’s glory) (The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 2, “Glory,” P. 576, Carey C. Newman). Thus the word “glory” is a concrete way of talking about God’s very presence in our midst! The Glory of God means the very presence of God right now, right here. When the angels sing they are in the same act declaring their utmost, highest allegiance to God alone as ruler and master and simultaneously proclaiming that God’s very presence is here in the baby Jesus! When the choir sings “He come from the glory, He come from the glorious Kingdom” it leads us to the profound truth at the center of the Christian faith: that the baby Jesus comes from God. He is God, manifest, made known in human form. All of this is an echoing of our foundational creedal affirmation as Christians. In the Apostles Creed we affirm: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, … and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, …” (The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 881). He [the baby Jesus] come from the Glory indeed! Thus it is that we gather in this season and time to cry Glory! This too is our affirmation of faith merging in worship with the beauty of the music. More recently a song entitled “Cry Glory” was made popular in the movie Selma. Written by American Rapper Common and Singer John Legend, it appropriately connects the very presence of God with the cause of racial justice. We are a people who are, as very act of witness and declaration of faith, cry Glory! All this is biblically anchored in Psalm 29.
You, divine beings! Give to the Lord— give to the Lord glory and power! 2 Give to the Lord the glory due his name! Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor! (Psalm 29:1-2)Appropriately our worship Sunday ended with the postlude “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Inhale once again the message of faith. “Glory to the newborn King!”