One of my favorite mysterious stories from Scripture is about Moses. Here's a man with a great and terrible past--with insecurities and hesitations. He never really wanted to lead. But God called him out. By the power of God, he had spoken to Pharaoh. By the power of God, he had done signs and wonders. By the power of God, he split the waters so that the Israelites could be free from their Egyptian bondage. And by the power of God, he led the people, with riches to spare, out of the land of Egypt.
He spoke God's words to the people, and the people vowed that they would do all that the Lord had spoken. So Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to speak with God. He was gone 40 days and 40 nights.
The people, who had so quickly vowed to do all that the Lord had said, just as quickly turned away. Tired and afraid of waiting, they made a golden calf to worship in the place of God.
When Moses learned of this, he grieved. God threatened to desert the people. Yet Moses dared to intercede with God for his people, the people God had given him to lead. And he knew that he couldn't continue to lead this stiff-necked people without God. He knew that they needed God with them.
And Moses said, "Show me Your glory."
A few years ago, I tried to figure out exactly what glory is. I know it's obviously something to do with having great honor, worth, and/or majesty, but I don't think I've ever heard a satisfactory definition. It's a word that is frequently used and perhaps overused, but I'm not sure how many people, if any, really know what it means. The closest I got to figuring out glory was by reading a thesaurus. I found nothing really helpful in the synonyms (all of them seemed to fall short), but then I read the antonyms. Base.
When I think of something that is base, I think of something lowly--the lowliest. I think of something that is lower than anything else. I think of something stuck on the bottom of my shoe, but not something even sticky or foul-smelling enough to worry about. It just stays on the bottom of my shoe, trodden upon, ignored and forgotten. Glory is the complete opposite of base. It's the highest. It's above anything else. It's something so high that base fools like us can't even define or imagine it.
And that's what Moses asked to be shown from God. He wanted to be shown GOD in all His fullness, in all His GLORY. Moses knew that he needed to see pure glory if he were to continue leading the stubborn people of Israel, those wrestlers with God.
So God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand, for He knew Moses couldn't see His face and live. After God had passed by, He allowed Moses to see His back, where He had been. He allowed Moses to see the glory that had passed. But He didn't let Moses see Him face to face.
Bethlehem was a small town, unimportant, as towns go. There, not in a palace or a mansion or even an inn, but in a stable, Mary, Joseph, and the lowly shepherds were the first ones to peer into the face of God. He didn't look glorious, I'm sure, all tiny and red and potato-headish (as newborns tend to be), and probably covered in birth goo. He didn't have a lot of power and might. In fact, I can't think of many things weaker and more helpless than a newborn human being. There were many alive at the time who probably would have thought as little of this baby as they would of something stuck to the bottom of their sandals.
The Beloved Disciple wrote in John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
The Word--Jesus--became flesh, and came down here to this base world full of base people. And we saw His glory. Moses' prayer was answered, not in the way he expected, and years after he prayed it. What he had seen was a partial revelation, but He later revealed the full. God showed us His glory--not just where He had been and in what He had done, but in what He was doing. And the world finally could see God face to face, for God had become like us. God was with us. Moses had asked for God to be with them in the wilderness. Those in the wilderness needed God to be with them in the time that Jesus walked the earth. Those of us today in the wilderness need God to be with us now.
And because God, the Father so full of glory we can't even comprehend Him, chose to set aside His glory and come down here to this base world, in the form of a weak little baby, we no longer have to walk through the dark wilderness alone.
And the very act of setting aside so much for so little is a glorious act in itself. It's one of those mysterious moments, when God does something really unusual. That's probably why Christmas is my favorite time of year, a time to celebrate the miracle of God being with us. Emmanuel.
We have seen His glory. We are not alone. He is with us.