Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the coming of the Beloved, who reigns in glory! Psalm 96 (Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill)
Throughout these past weeks I feel that I have been living the symbolic theme of the sacred season of Advent in the Christian year: the deep hope in the coming of the Light to shine in the darkness of our personal and collective lives. This hope was fulfilled on Christmas morn as I witnessed the golden pink light of dawn filling the sky and felt that I was truly seeing the divine glory heralding the birth of Christ. I could easily imagine that our Guardian Tree, the magnificent white oak, was singing and dancing to welcome this holy day as his branches swayed back and forth in the breeze. It seemed that we were living in this present day the ancient story in which heaven and earth unite to celebrate the glorious Birth:
Bright shines this day of splendor, light from glory beaming, whence hath borne the son by virgin ever blessed. Fulget Dies Celebris, 13th c.
This wondrous experience of Christmas dawn highlighted for me the many images of glory that are central to the Christmas story, as expressed throughout the words of Scripture, sacred music, and works of art. This led me to reflect on the deeper meanings of the word “glory,” as our usual association of glory with fame and honor seems limiting in the light of the glory that the Christmas story reveals. The “glory of God” appears as a revelation of God’s presence with us: the living presence of the Divine in the world.
My experience of glory shining forth on Christmas morn in the natural world echoes the references in the Hebrew Scriptures to God’s glory as the divine power that manifests through the radiant beauty of creation. As the prophet Isaiah says approximately 800 years before the birth of Christ:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.
Today, when we gaze with wonder and awe at the grandeur and beauty of the images from the Hubble space telescope, we can expand on this view of earthly glory in our vision of the entire cosmos as the reflection of divine glory.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the presence of God’s glory in the created world finds expression in beauty and joy. The sun, moon and stars praise the God of glory; the trees of the field clap their hands; the hills shout and sing for joy; the created world rejoices! In our own times, the mystic Bede Griffiths continues this poetic image of creation as the “dancing ground of the Glory.“ Although God’s glory is always with us, often we do not see it. It is only when we see more deeply than the surface of created things to the underlying divine light at the heart of all creation that we can know the living presence of divine glory in the world.
The associations of the glory of God with the natural world are closely connected to the feminine face of God. For the Hebrew people, the sacred feminine was personified by Lady Wisdom (“Sophia” in Greek) who appears in the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. Here she represents the indwelling presence of the divine in the world. The Wisdom of Solomon describes her as “a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty.” She is the divine life that “pervades and permeates all things,” the radiant light of glory that flows throughout the cosmos, within the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galactic cluster.
The association of divine glory with the cosmos and the sacred feminine are important aspects of the Christmas story. The coming of the Christ – the baby Jesus born to his mother Mary – marks the fuller revelation of God’s glory in historical time. The Gospel according to Luke describes the first response to the divine birth as the appearance of an angelic messenger who brings “good news of great joy” to shepherds watching their flocks at night as “the glory of the Lord shone around them.”
After the angel’s revelation of the birth of Christ, a multitude of the heavenly beings appear with songs of praise that mirror the earlier biblical images which show all creation singing for joy. Following this vision, the shepherds hasten to the stable in Bethlehem where they join the animals in witnessing the glory of God revealed in the newborn babe that lies in a manger.
The presence of God is now fully revealed in a human being; as the Gospel according to John relates, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…” With the birth of the Christ child, the glory of God within the human being can be known by all those who like the simple shepherds have “eyes to see.” The indwelling Christ lives within the human heart, and the divine presence is the glory of humanity.
The attributes of Sophia (Wisdom) and Christ (Word) are closely aligned: Wisdom says in the Book of Proverbs, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work” and the Gospel according to John says, “In the beginning was the Word…” The Sophianic glory that fills the cosmos with life and light is integrated into the Christ, as the Gospel according to John affirms: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” The Sophianic references point to the essential nature of the Cosmic Christ. This is the Christ that includes and transcends the historical Jesus, the Word and Wisdom present from the beginning that flows into the created world of space and time, and which we perceive as the radiant light and life of divine glory within and all around us.
The further revelation of God’s glory is yet to come; as the prophet Isaiah foretells:
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.
This is shown in the poetic image in the Book of Revelation that expresses John’s mystical vision of the holy city coming down out of heaven:
It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel… And the city has no need of sun and moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light…
John saw the glory of God in the “new Jerusalem,” where God will dwell among mortals. This describes the new Creation, when all human beings will have “eyes to see” the light and love that flows through the divine heart of the cosmos. In the New Creation, we will know the glory of God as our deepest being, and will see the radiant glory in all others and in all creation. With this vision the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled, as all people join the earthly creatures and heavenly beings in rejoicing. The New Creation is the consummation of the Christmas story – the complete revelation of God’s glory – as its manifestation in the cosmos, the sacred feminine, and the Christ are united within human consciousness. Divine glory is thus the matrix of the unitive vision.
While meditating upon the divine glory, these words arose within my heart:
May I abide in the glory of your radiant Cosmic Body and may all beings awaken to their true Being-in-You.
This is our fervent prayer as we see the glory that shines all around us in the present moment, while we wait with hope and faith for its complete manifestation in the future.
Cynthia Avens Christmas 2018