This morning I was catching up on what I “should” have been reading during my quiet time the past few days. It wasn’t because I’ve been slacking off lately. Rather, I occasionally allow myself the freedom to read other things. So, this morning, I was doing what I “should” do, which is reading the first seven chapters of Isaiah.
The nice thing was, I love Isaiah, so reading a block of his prophecies wasn’t tedious at all. There was plenty there for me spiritually, and I had much to write in my journal. However, for our purposes, one passage in particular opened up a vista that joined together Creation and Christmas in a way I had never considered before.
In Isaiah 6, God commissions Isaiah as a prophet in a vision where Isaiah sees God’s glory, majesty and holiness filling the Jerusalem Temple. His account of the vision opens with a gripping account of what he saw: “. . . I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train [or “hem”] of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah is overwhelmed by the grandeur of God’s presence, aware that he is only seeing a small part of it–the “hem of his robe” as it were.
His account continues. Above God are great, heavenly beings, the seraphim, proclaiming God’s holiness:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!
It was at this point in Isaiah’s account that I paused. The words, “The whole earth is full of his glory” articulated something for me that we all have sensed and experienced. God’s creation is filled with God’s glory! Creation isn’t about itself, it is a canvas on which is painted God’s beauty and a page on which is poetry describing God’s grandeur. To look at creation and not see God is like looking at a sonnet of Shakespeare and seeing only the paper, or like looking at a painting by Rembrandt or Monet and seeing only the canvas and not what’s on it. The beauty, power, and even fearful aspects of nature gives us hints and glimmers of Who is behind it. On any given day, if we have eyes to see it, we can see a small bit of what Isaiah saw, the smallest and most accessible part of the hem of God’s robe.
Yet, our vision of God’s glory is not limited to the hem of God’s garment, as impressive and even overwhelming as that vision can be. Our vision of God is not limited to the sounds and images of creation and to the realm of partial images, metaphors and symbols. God’s glory came to earth in a person, heralded by angels, as in Isaiah’s vision. Instead of prophets, shepherds hear the angelic worship breaking in to this deaf and hard-hearted world. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!” as the old King James Bible puts it, and even if the good king’s translators got it wrong, nonetheless, the peace of God descends to earth, and God’s good will as well. Now, God is not only glorified in the highest. Now, through the kindness of God, God is glorified on earth too, in a Son who is His own. The shepherds join the heavenly worship by going to Bethlehem, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).
The God behind the broken images of His creation comes out from behind them and meets us face to face in a man who is also His Son. The glory of God no longer fills the temple in a vision, as it did for Isaiah. Now, it fills a person, the baby born in Bethlehem, who is God’s salvation, “prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people, Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Later, God’s glory will be made known in the baptism of Jesus by John, and even later, it will shine more brightly and yet more clearly, at least to some, on the Mountain of Transfiguration.
Yet, as John’s Gospel suggests, the Transfiguration still is not the fullness of God’s glory come to earth in the flesh, for there are depths to the glory of God beyond human imagining. God’s glory takes its fullest form in the Christ who sets his face to Jerusalem and embraces rejection, abandonment, suffering, and death. In the darkest night of the human soul, God’s glory sparkles like a diamond on black velvet. From the grave, God’s glory flashes brighter than the sun.
Truly, the ancient Eucharistic hymn of praise is right: “Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the Highest!” Now, God’s glory is no longer a vision of heaven given to select prophets. Nor is it a vision of the Divinized and Transfigured flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, given to a few disciples on a mountain. God’s glory is made present for all of us in the death and resurrection of His Son. And through the death and resurrection of His Son, God’s glory fills the hearts of those who seek for it in the crucified and risen One.
Now, God’s glory is not something we only see from the outside, whether through creation’s broken image or through prophetic visions or through the personal experiences of a select few. God’s glory has become flesh and dwelt among us; God’s glory has suffered and died among us, and God’s glory has triumphed among us in the empty tomb of Christ. Now, through Christ, we have been invited to come into God’s glory, to know it in our hearts, and to be transformed by it so that others may see it in us.
The road from Isaiah’s seraphic worship to Luke’s “heavenly hosts” to Christ’s empty tomb and then on to the human heart is more direct than one might think. What was a prophet’s vision in Solomon’s Temple is later born of Mary the Virgin in Bethlehem. Visions give way to flesh and blood reality in the Divine Logos made flesh.
Now, in a way truer than it was in Isaiah’s time, “the whole earth is full of his glory” because God is now present in it. The Creator has become part of His creation, and the vision of glory is now resident on earth. And so, with the angels we sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” because “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).