Friday, December 15, 2017

God Has Spoken by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-4) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

One Christmas, a mother listened as her 4-year-old daughter sang one of the carols.  The mother was a little surprised when she heard her daughter sing: “While shepherds washed their socks by night.”  I mean who knows, shepherds had to do something to pass the time as they were watching their flocks at night.

Christmas calls to mind a question which has haunted human beings since the beginning of time – “Am I alone in this universe?”  Christmas dares to shout forth an answer: “No, you are not alone.

Christmas announces glorious news, God, out of love for His creation, entered our history, our life adventure, our journey, to be near us, among us, one of us and one with us. God slipped into our time zone and has never left it.

Why did God enter the world as Jesus?  It was out of love for His creation, out of love for humanity.  If God had wanted to relate to trees, he would have become a tree; if God had wanted to relate to birds, he would have become a bird; if God had wanted to relate to computers, he would have become a computer; but God wanted to relate to and communicate with and bring salvation to human beings, so God became one of us.  We could not rise to God, so God stooped down to come to us.

Christmas declares that an eternal light has broken into the darkness of the world.  The Gospel writer John says: “In Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”   In Jesus, God has made his character, his heart, his mind, his voice, his will, his nature known to the world.

Christmas is about a young Jewish peasant couple, Mary and Joseph, who experience the miraculous in their life.  She is with child, an angel reveals, a child conceived by the Holy Spirit.  The prophet Isaiah says:  “The Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Christmas is about the unique nature of Jesus.  It announces that Jesus is truly God, very God, fully God.  In the Gospel of John we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”  The letter of Colossians says it succinctly: “In Jesus Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  The Letter of Hebrews states: “In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”  

Born in Bethlehem, Jesus' is God’s revelation, God’s incarnation, God’s anointed one, Immanuel, God is one with us.  Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God.

But paradoxically Christmas also declares the exact opposite, Jesus was a human being.  Jesus was truly human, very human, fully human.   The sovereign God entered the world as a helpless baby.  The letter of Hebrews says: “Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus likewise shared the same things.   For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect was tested as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus was human, born of a woman like you and I are born.  He experienced the joys and sorrows of life, yet he was without sin.  Christmas declares this unique, one of a kind birth.  No other world religions speak of incarnation in their faith.

Christians declare this truth: in Jesus of Nazareth, God and humanity, the divine and human are united in one personal existence.  This truth is a mystery.  Ultimately, comprehending it lies beyond our mind's ability to fully grasp it.  Rather the truth lies in God’s revealing it to our minds and hearts.  We then can accept it by faith or reject it.

Yes, for some today it’s a scandalous claim.  Jews consider it blasphemy and idolatry, an offense to God because God is Spirit, not flesh and blood and because we are to worship God alone, not human beings.  For others Christmas is a fairytale, with angels, animals, shepherds and kings, like the brothers’ Grimm fairy tales, Snow White, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince.  For others it’s about Santa Claus and getting and giving gifts.  Some see the Christmas story of a peasant family giving birth as a metaphor for poor people all over the world giving birth in humble circumstances.  Some see Christmas as a time for family reunions and food and celebrations and traditions.  The one thing they all have in common is that these understandings have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth.

The Christian faith announces that Christmas is founded upon a historical event.  It is based upon a unique and humble birth of Jesus, a baby born in Bethlehem, in a world of Caesar's and Herod’s and Pilates, and a Jewish people under subjugation by the Roman Empire.

Why did God enter into the world in Jesus?  To fulfill the prophecies of a coming Messiah from Jewish prophets like Micah, Zechariah and Isaiah: “For unto us a child has been born, a son given to us, authority rests upon his shoulders, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and this coming messiah, God's anointed one, would bring salvation from our sins and establish his kingdom with justice and righteousness forevermore.”

The distinguished 5th century Church Father St. Augustine said: “God became a man for this purpose.  Since you, a human being could not reach God, but you can reach other humans, God became a human so that following a human, something you are able to do, you might reach God.”

I recall when Police Chief Charles Moose, back in 2003, first made national news when he was police chief in Portland, Oregon.  Chief Moose and his wife, Sandy, went house hunting. They could have afforded to live in any of the city's best neighborhoods. Instead, they bought an 83-year-old wood-frame house in the King neighborhood, which had one of the highest crime rates in Portland. Chief Moose, who was 41 at the time, was the country's only police chief to live in a crime plagued dangerous neighborhood.

With his move to the King neighborhood, Chief Moose was hoping to get people feeling better about their community, to improve their quality of life and build trust with the police.  He said: "If someone can say, 'I live in the same neighborhood as the chief' instead of ‘I live in the neighborhood where the shooting happened or in a high crime area, "I will have achieved my goal."

The chief moved into the King neighborhood.  God in Jesus moved into our neighborhood.   That's the Christmas message. That is the greatest compliment that God could possibly pay us.  This is the good news of Immanuel, God with us.

Christmas declares that God is at work everywhere in the midst of the world’s darkness and in the most reluctant and hardened of hearts.   God is on the premises and suffers with those who suffer and judges those who perpetrate evil.  God in Jesus seeks those in whom love can be born and peace can be won.   God came to redeem the world and to reach out and find us and being found sends us out to let Christ’s love shine in us as light against the darkness and hope against hopelessness.  The incarnation confronts us with the truth about who Jesus is and challenges us to become who God created us to be.  God has spoken by His son.

What is our response?  Some of course dismiss Christmas, “Bah, humbug.”  Other people approach Christmas with the mind, with the intellect and critically analyze its message.   That is certainly one response and is not without merit.  Some find this approach quite helpful.  Some have met Jesus on the intellectual path.   Another approach is that of awe and wonder and mystery, where we receive the message of Christmas in humility on our knees.   Some have received the message through Christmas music, like carols like:  “Oh come let us adore him, Oh come let us adore him” and “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.”

What will your response be to the Christmas story this year?    Amen.

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