In many parts of the world December 26th is celebrated as "boxing day." No, it's not a day to celebrate the heavyweight champion. Traditionally, it was the day when people would give a Christmas "box" to those in need, or to those in service positions. More recently it has become the day to shop the after-Christmas sales, and to "box up" and return unwanted Christmas presents.
This day is also the day when the church recognizes the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church. The account of Stephen is found in Acts 7. Stephen had recently been selected as a deacon in Acts 6, and quickly found himself at odds with some of the local Jewish authorities. After a passionate sermon from Stephen, these authorities were not pleased with what they heard and proceeded to stone Stephen.
How do these two things, boxing day and St. Stephen's feast day, relate? We all have at one point or another received a gift we didn't want, something we may have boxed up and returned. But the gifts of God are not things we would want to return. In the birth of Jesus, God gives Himself to us, the greatest gift we could receive. Through His death and resurrection God gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation. The world would have us deny those gifts. In the face of persecution and even death, St. Stephen held fast to the gifts and promises of Jesus. May we also deny ourselves and hold as precious the gifts our Lord gives us in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is God
A recent theological survey (2020) from Ligonier ministries asked Americans whether they agreed with the statement, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” 52% of respondents agreed with this statement and even 30% of evangelicals agreed with it.
I pray that we would know better. Our Lord Jesus is true God and true man. When we reflect upon the birth of Jesus that first Christmas we confess that God Himself was wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, and worshipped by shepherds. Jesus is our Emmanuel, God with us. When we reflect on the death of Jesus on the cross, we confess that God Himself died for our sins. How can God be born? How can God die? This is a great mystery. It is something that we cannot fully comprehend, but we must simply confess.
Does it matter whether or not Jesus was God? Absolutely! God took on our flesh. Jesus is God and man, "not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God" (Athanasian Creed). God became one of us. God experienced in a body those things we experience in the body, yet He was without sin. Only a perfect sacrifice could atone for the sin of the whole world. Only God Himself could offer such a perfect sacrifice, which He did on the cross in the person of Jesus.
The incarnation is a miracle. Thanks be to God for such a miracle.
What is God's “glory”? It's actually a difficult question. The word glory often refers to ideas of beauty, majesty, or splendor. For a human being glory could refer to that person's dignity, wealth, power, or position. The glory of someone consists of those things which make that person unique or important in the eyes of others.
But what about the glory of God? In the Old Testament the Hebrew word usually translated as glory has the idea of weight or heaviness. God is glorious because He deals with matters much weightier than what we humans deal with. His presence is much more significant than ours. In the Old Testament most often God's glory describes the form in which God reveals Himself to people or is the sign and manifestation of His presence.
In Exodus Moses asks to see God's glory (Ex. 33:18). The Lord tells Moses that no person can look at His face and live (Ex. 33:20). Instead, God chooses to reveal Himself, His character and essence in a different way, by showing Moses His goodness (Ex. 33:19). The Lord also promises Moses that He will allow His glory to pass by Moses, but the Lord will cover Moses’ face with His hand. Once the glory of the Lord passes by Moses will see the "backside" of the Lord's glory (Ex. 33:21-23).
We often would like to "see" God's glory, to be given some supernatural sign of God's presence with us or his favor with us. We too would might like to peer into the mind of God to understand His nature to gaze upon His complete beauty. But such things are too weighty for us. Instead, God shows us His goodness by providing for our daily needs and forgiving our sins. He also shows us the backside of His glory, revealing His character, saving power, and mercy to us from the behind, as we look backwards. That is, we realize God's glory as we look backwards in time, at Jesus death and resurrection, at the preservation of His word for thousands of years, at our own baptism and faith. John tells us that the glory of God is seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus (John 1:14). God is glorious because He has saved us through His Son!