In the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory… No one has seen God. It is God’s only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
John’s gospel, reaching back beyond creation and deep into the mystery of Christ’s birth reminds us that, while no one has seen the glory of God face to face, God’s grace and mercy have never left us, which leaves us the promise that they never will.
No one has seen God, John says, and he namechecks Moses. We remember how Moses longed for a closer revelation of God – closer than the burning bush, and the Red Sea, the pillars of cloud and of fire, the personal conversations. God told Moses that a man could not handle such naked glory. Moses hid himself in the crevice of a rock, and God guarded Moses from the glory with God’s hand, letting him peek out only as God disappeared around a corner, like a familiar friend passing just out of reach, out of earshot, beloved, but lost.
Still, when Moses met with God on the mountaintop, his face shone with the reflection of God’s glory, and the people were afraid even of his afterglow.
God’s grace and mercy have never left us, passing over us and shielding us from more than we can imagine; but how much glory can we handle, human as we are?
When Elijah hid in the cave, fleeing for his life and resenting rather how much of it he had dedicated to God, God showed him a different lesson. All of the power of creation passed by as Elijah, like Moses, hid in the cleft of the rock; and after it was done, he veiled his face to come to the cave entrance, drawn by the quietness that followed the storm, the back end of God’s power, the quiet insistence that God is faithful, God’s presence persistent, even in the stillness, God’s mercy endures forever.
We, no more than Moses and Elijah, are not equipped to deal with too much of God’s unfiltered, powerful glory.
In the end, Elijah was taken up by chariots of fire, directly immolated by the nearer presence of God, consumed by glory.
When we wish that God would do more, and more dramatically, in our own lives, in our own time, it might be that God is protecting us from too much glory, so as not to overwhelm our humanity. If the Word of God that spoke light into being, caused the land to rise and the seas to shift, if that Word were to break loose upon us, how would we respond?
Instead, God covers us with God’s hand, shielding us from the full weight of glory, veiling divine power in the miracle of a birth, muting the clamour of glory with the cry of a child, presenting God’s mercy and grace to us as one born of a woman, in need of love, care, tenderness.
While we demand divinity, glory unleashed, God appeals to our humanity, teaching us by God’s own example to exercise the image of God within us, whose graciousness is revealed by acts of mercy and protection, whose power is found in faithfulness, whose glory is borne by love.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. Today’s Speaking to the Soul comes from her sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas. The full sermon is at www.rosalindhughes.com