Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Glory Days

A few weeks ago our pastor Erik announced that, due to rapidly outgrowing our current worship space, we would be moving to a new site just a few blocks away. I immediately felt the cringe of nostalgia. Even though City Church is only four years old, we have always met in the same small, beautiful church building. I will be a little sad to leave. But Erik quickly reminded those of us who long for the "glory days" that for any church, our true glory days lie ahead in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus reigns completely and all things are renewed. What a challenging truth! It made me think: Is nostalgia really some sort of misplaced hope, as if we ever lived in some sort of heaven-on-earth? The apostle Peter warns us that we do not yet live in our true homeland "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13); a later prophet chided nostalgia as "a desire for something which has never actually appeared in our experience" (C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory").

A few nights ago I was singing to myself Martin Luther's old Christmas hymn, "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come," in which an angelic host proclaim the good news of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. In the fourth stanza they bear this news:

He will on you the gifts bestow
Prepared by God for all below,
That in His kingdom, bright and fair,
You may with us His glory share.

"That . . . you may with us His glory share"--that is the gospel! The good news of the redemption Christ has won for us means that we would not only see beauty--the fiery glow of a sunset, the piercing radiance of noonday sun reflecting from a fresh snowfall, the calm drops of dew glistening suspended from a spider's web, the warmth of a loving family gathered around the hearth, the resounding voices of the chorus inside St. Peter's Basilica, the graceful movements of a ballet dancer, the arms of Mother Teresa around a discarded, sickly orphan, the trade of wrinkled smiles between a long-married couple--but that we would become beautiful and glorious ourselves. Only our glory and beauty will far surpass that of any temporal thing of this earth: we will share the very glory of Jesus the eternal Son ourselves.

The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus Christ, God himself and his saving righteousness have been unveiled (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6). And the result--or, perhaps rather, the goal--is that we share in his glory ourselves. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). And one day, we will share the very same glory of body, soul, and spirit as the risen and glorified Son himself, full of the Spirit of Life: "For those whom he [God] foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:28-30*; see also Heb. 2:5-10; 1 John 3:1-2).

I think this is something even the best of us evangelicals can miss as we hold forth the cross. We focus so heavily on forgiveness and justification by faith--the open door into the kingdom and into union with Christ--that we lose sight of the end goal, of God's ultimate purpose for us in this life and the next: participating in Christ's glory and so exercising our true humanity. As we set our lives before God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2) and come to a deeper knowledge of God's excellent promises, we "become partakers of the divine nature" and become freed from corrupting desires (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Our life's goal, both now and in the age to come, is to be so clothed with Christ and filled by the Holy Spirit that we take on, participate in, and share the very glory of our Head and King himself. Eastern theologians say that while we do not share God's essence or nature as Diety, we do share God's "energies," his ways of acting and being in the world (known as theosis). We are meant to become, as it were, little Christs, little sons of God, brothers along with the Firstborn who shares his Father's image (Gen. 1:26, 27; Rom. 8:17-18, 28-30; Col. 3:10; Heb. 2:5-17). Not that we ourselves become deified, but that we become flawless mirrors reflecting the light of God's glory and so shine all the more brightly ourselves with goodness and love and joy and beauty. We will become fully illuminated, luminous as the brightest stars in the heavens (Dan. 12:2-3).

*Paul employs the past tense to announce that both in God's eternal purposes set before creation and also in the cross and empty tomb in A.D. 29, all of salvation has already been accomplished--even if it is being applied and brought to fruition across time by the Holy Spirit as he unites people to Christ.

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