Rev. Andrew Cunnington
15th December 2013
Behold! The Glory!

I trained for ministry in Salisbury and our college was right there in the Cathedral Close and if you have been to that city, you will know what an awe inspiring place it is. Every morning to walk into The Close at about 8am and see that great building sitting on the grass with not a tourist in sight. Rising from the mist. Glinting in the sunlight or covered with snow. Magical and holy. What a place!

Then every evening, when studying was done, to creep through the door and sit in the quire for Choral Evensong and let your spirits soar into the rafters of that place in the company of beautiful music.

And in the middle of dull lectures on Church History, to gaze out of the window and contemplate the presence of God in that holy building.

It was like that for me for the first term or so, but then I got so used to the majesty, so accustomed to the sacred, that I did not really look in the same way anymore.

I entered The Close with my eyes to the ground, or lost in conversation with a fellow student, I went to said Evening Prayer in the chapel, rather than join the choir. I was too busy to look out of the window.

Sometimes it’s not that the glory of God is absent, but rather that its presence has become so familiar that we regard it with indifference.

In church a couple of weeks ago and I emerged from the Lady Chapel after Morning Prayer to find a gentleman of the road wandering about in the shadows. With his dusty old back pack, his bobble hat and his breath already smelling of beer, he cut a familiar figure.

Rather worryingly, He gripped me by the shoulders tightly and forced my head up to look at the stained glass windows.

“Look, glory” he cried “ Have you seen it, really seen it!”

He led me down the front of the church and pointed to the walls where the sun was casting its shadows “ Look, “ he cried again “ light in the darkness”. His light!

He let me go and then he spun about with arms outstretched “ What a place this is” he cried again “ Alleluia, what a place”, and then right in my face again “ God’s everywhere here! Everywhere! Did you know that?”

He did not ask for money. He was not threatening in the end. Rather he was John The Baptist reincarnated for me! “ Behold! The glory of God, right is here”

I think this was John’s main thrust. It’s not that the people in his day were wicked and ungodly, but they had so dressed up their religion into the keeping of traditions, the maintaining of the law and doing the familiar thing, that they had lost sight of the glory. What they were doing mattered so much, that they had become blind to what God was up to.

Thus the Gospel of repentance is not so much about being downtrodden by a guilty conscience all the time and made to feel bad about yourself so others could laud it over you, but just being aware of taking God’s presence for granted or missing him completely when actually he was staring you in the face.

Behold the glory! It’s all around you!

And if you miss that glory in the place where you are now, how will you find it when you are summoned to Bethlehem in the company of Shepherds and angels.

You wouldn’t think to go to a stable, you wouldn’t think to look in a manger, you wouldn’t think to find the glory of God wrapped in a newborn baby. You’re more likely to head for Herod’s palace, unless during this Advent season you are prepared to have your eyes prised open, to see what has been staring you in the face all the time, right here, in hometown Nazareth.

This is the central promise in our OT reading from Isaiah, perceiving the glory in familiar places and barren places.

Listen to the prophet and see whether you can believe him:

The desert will blossom forth …O yes..since when did that happen!

Weak hands will be strengthened, and feeble knees made firm…..a likely story!

Crocuses will burst into song…I mean have you ever heard the like!

And yet it is then, that everyone will see the glory of the Lord.

Look to the places of your weaknesses. Your no hope places. Your despised people, and see him break forth like a dayspring on high.

Contemplate the familiar. The taken for granted. The rhythm of life you have built around yourself, Give space here at St Matthew’s so that here, you can be rendered speechless, like the gentleman of the road, who on entering this church, thought he had died and gone to heaven.

In the last months you may have noticed that I have been leading worship elsewhere in the Deanery and in one particular vestry as I was getting ready, I noticed an ancient plaque on the wall, and it contained some prayers I had completely forgotten about. A prayer that the priest should make as he puts on his vestments before leading worship. A prayer for alb, stole and chasuble, and other liturgical bits and bobs that I have never bothered with. I was aware of those prayers, but never used them, I suppose because I don’t want people to think I am too pious.

But the opposite is, that I can put on these robes and not think anything too much, beyond is everything straight and not creased. Whereas what I must do is be ready to behold the glory, be ready, in that vestry to lead people to the sort of spiritual encounter that gentleman of the road found here.

And in our buzz before the service, where is the balance between the friendly, family atmosphere which makes people feel at ease and belong here, and a sense of anticipation that in what we share at 10am sharp, God will be awe inspiringly present.

In the end even John The Baptist was not sure about Jesus. Not sure if the glory of God was manifest in a guise such as the man from Nazareth. “Are you the one who is to come” he asked “or should we look for another”. This Christmas, could it be people will look to us for similar clues! And if you let yourself stand before the glory of God might it be that the shining will indeed rub off on you.

Imagine how glorious that would be!

ISAIAH 35:1-10 MATTHEW 11:2-11