How I came to see the Christmas Story in a Whole New Glorious Light

Dec 23, 2020 by David Fowler

How I came to see the Christmas Story in a Whole New Glorious Light
Sometimes stories become so familiar that we can only see in them what we have always seen. About three years ago, my life and view of the world changed when I saw something I had never seen before in the story the Bible tells. Now, though, I see it everywhere. It is even in the most familiar telling of the Christmas story—Luke’s recounting of the shepherds who were on the hillside the night Jesus was born—and I had not seen it… 

Luke’s part of the Christmas story is so familiar that I missed what other Scriptures demonstrate was the most important thing. Here is what Luke wrote: 
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2: 7-11, 13-14 

What is easy to overlook in these verses is what the Apostle John saw as the fountain and spring of all of the Apostles’ endeavors and to which he points at the beginning of his gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:14, KJV, emphasis added). 

Note, too, what Jesus prayed for on the night he was betrayed: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24, KJV, emphasis added). 

Consider, too, how the Apostle Paul described the Savior spoken of by the angels, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6, KJV, emphasis added). 

The Key to the Christmas Story is Seeing in it the Revelation of the Glory of the Knowledge of God. 

What I had not heard in the many sermons I was exposed to throughout my life were explications of the glory of the knowledge of God that is given to us in Christ. 

I had never appreciated why, without Christ’s condescension in taking on human flesh and human nature, His coming to live among us, and His dying at our hands, we would have no true knowledge of who God is. If all we saw was the evil that surrounds and befalls us, we would conclude, as some have, that if there is a God, He must be the Devil. 

I had failed to understand why Christ is, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, God’s final word to us on and the ultimate revelation of His glory. I didn’t understand the writer’s implication—if, with the revelation of God in Christ, we don’t see who God is and His glory, then we are truly lost. 

Why is this Knowledge of the Glory of God so Fundamental? 

John Owen, a leader in the English Reformation, and whose book, The Glory of Christ, was used by God to awaken me from my comfortable evangelical slumber and infantile subsistence on evangelical pablum, wrote this: 
[H]ad we the tongue of men and angels, we were not able in any just measure to express the glory of this condescension; for it is the most ineffable effect of the divine wisdom of the Father and of the love of the Son, – the highest evidence of the care of God towards mankind. What can be equal unto it? what can be like it? It is the glory of Christian religion, and the animating soul of all evangelical truth. (emphasis added) 

Then he wrote this, and it pierced my heart and mind: 
Consider, therefore, his infinite condescension, grace, and love herein. Why all this towards you? Does he stand in need of you? Have you deserved it at his hands? Did you love him first? Cannot he be happy and blessed without you? Has he any design upon you, that he is so earnest in calling you unto him? Alas! it is nothing but the overflowing of mercy, compassion, and grace, that moves and acts him herein. 

When I read this statement, it drove me to my knees: 
If a man pretends himself to be enamored on, or greatly to desire, what he never saw, nor was ever represented unto him, he does but dote on his own imaginations. And the pretended desires of many to behold the glory of Christ in heaven, who have no view of it by faith whilst they are here in this world, are nothing but self-deceiving imaginations. (emphasis added) 

Lastly, Owen wrote: 
All unbelievers do in their heart call Christ “Ichabod,” – “Where is the glory?” They see neither “form nor comeliness in him,” that he should be desired. 

I realized that the “brand” of evangelicalism that I knew had made me content, as it had the Pharisees, with making my best effort toward biblical morality and engaging in church-based activities and programs often gilded over with biblical words and concepts. 

Is Standard Evangelical Preaching and Teaching Sufficient? 

Most of what I see in evangelicalism today is a lot of so many steps-to-this and -to-that kind of teaching along with exhortations to moral living. Until four years ago I found little to any teaching by which I could develop a sound doctrine of God by which I could, in turn, better see how truly unfathomable the love of the Father was toward me in the extreme condescension of His only Son. 

As a result, I have come to ask myself why such a paucity of theological (theology itself meaning the knowledge of God) doctrinal teaching on God exists in so many churches today? 

I suspect there are many reasons for it, but I can say it was only as I was exposed to the kind of doctrinal teaching by which I could begin to see the “glory of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) that some much and long-needed changes begin to be wrought in me (I have a long way to go!). 

And, again, Owen explains why this would be so when all other kinds of teaching and preaching had failed: 
Let that glory be rightly stated, as before laid down, – the glory of his person, his office, his condescension, exaltation, love, and grace; let faith be fixed in a view and contemplation of it, mix itself with it, as represented in the glass of the gospel, meditate upon it, embrace it, and virtue will proceed from Christ, communicating spiritual, supernatural refreshment and joy unto our souls. Yea, in ordinary cases, it is impossible that believers should have a real prospect of this glory at any time, but that it will in some measure affect their hearts with a sense of his love; which is the spring of all consolation in them. 

Quite simply, the virtue I needed to do what my mind told me I ought to do was just not in me. 

I lacked what Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.”  It is an affection that comes only when we see the glory of God, and we see the prospect of recovering the glory God originally intended for us as creatures in the glory that was finally and forever accorded Christ in his humanity. And this affection begins a transformational work from within us.

To me, this explains why Paul wanted to preach nothing but Christ to a Corinthian culture like ours. Christ is not just a means to an end—escape from Hell and a ticket to a Heaven that will please our senses, but in Him are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3, NKJV), more than we could plumb in a hundred lifetimes.  Why is that? Because “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily!” (Colossians 2:9 NKJV) 

And I cannot help but think that the lack of such teaching—teaching that demonstrates the full panorama of the glory of God’s wisdom, power, and condescending love for those who are justly the object of condemnation by a God who is too pure in all respects even to look upon sin—is what has left the evangelical church so bewildered and powerless in our age. 

Notice the Effect of God’s Glory on the Shepherds 

Some will say I am a theological egg head or nerd, and I am. They will say this kind of teaching only “works” for folks like me. 

But I beg to differ. My personality does not mean there is no life-changing power for “the masses” in seeing the glory of God just because some think the intellectual appetites of the masses only allow for only a steady diet of evangelical pablum. Such people forget the verses that speak of the power that is in the very glory of God itself.  Consider, for example, the effect that seeing the glory of God had on the lowly shepherds: 

First, when glory is shown around them, fear overwhelmed them, which is what happens when we have a true apprehension of and are confronted with the glory of the thrice-holy God (v. 9). Second, note that it called forth a response from them—they went to see what they had been told (v. 15-16). Third, it changed them—they told others. And when they “went back” to their day-to-day of being shepherds, they were changed—they were “glorifying and praising God” (v. 20). 

Is it possible that much of the transformational stagnation in evangelicalism today is, as Owen wrote, that we dote on our own imaginations about God and have not truly glimpsed His glory? I can only answer that such was true of me. 

I pray that today all believers and unbelievers alike will have a better view by faith of the glory of God in Christ that is on display this Christmas.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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