Hebrews

The Glory of His Work

Sixth in the Advent/Christmas series, “What Has God Wrought?”

Hebrews 1:1-13 (NRSV)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he 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. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
   today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
   and he will be my Son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
   and his servants flames of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
   and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
   with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And,

“In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
   and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
   they will all wear out like clothing;
like a cloak you will roll them up,
   and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same,
   and your years will never end.”

But to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand
   until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?


God came down. That is the essence of the Christmas story—God came down among us from an infinite place and situation we can barely imagine to save his creation from sin.

It’s a beautiful story. Do you want to hear the Christmas story one more time this Christmas Day? It’s always worth hearing, even if you heard it last night, on Christmas Eve.

The author of our Hebrews text this morning evoked that Christmas story, and he wanted us to remember God came down in all his glory, despite God voluntarily reducing himself to be among us. By glory, we simply mean that his perfect holiness was shining through, even at moments when human beings dulled by sin could not always see the glory.

The Hebrews author reminds us that yes, this Jesus is God among us. Through him, all things were made, an assertion echoed in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Yes, this Jesus is eternal, and life is rooted in him.

Yes, this Jesus is worthy of worship. This expression of God as Son shares the throne in heaven with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, three in one. Even the angels in heaven bow down to the Christ, and when he was born to a human mother in this world, the angels came down, too, visible to shepherds as God’s divine messengers.

God’s glory shines all around us even today. We simply have to remember to look for it, to ask God to remove the scales from our sin-dulled eyes, and the glory is there.

There is the glory of creation. We like to cite creation as evidence of God’s presence here in Ten Mile, particularly when I ask during prayer time where we’ve seen God. There’s nothing wrong with pointing to nature, even though it often continues to be red in tooth and claw. We’re just echoing Romans 1:20:

“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”

We see God’s glory in each other, too. You hear people from other religions talk about the “divine spark” within humans. We have notions along those lines in Christianity, too. We know from the creation story that we were made in God’s image, although we quickly became cracked, distorted reflections because of sin.

Jesus came among us to be the perfect reflection, the exact imprint, and when we accept that truth and profess our belief in him as Savior, we begin to do a better job day by day of reflecting God’s glory to others. As Jesus rose from the dead, resurrected, we rise above our own dying each day and are transformed, knowing that we also will be resurrected in full.

In our worship services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Luminary UMC, we have had the joy of taking some of our brothers and sisters through baptisms, confirmations and reaffirmations of faith. We believe the “divine spark” was visible at those moments. As each formally accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, we believe the Holy Spirit began to work in the person in new ways.

Who knows what God will do through them? An act of re-creation, I am sure. These new Christians are being remade, just as the world is being remade, and as the church of believers grows, God’s glory should become more evident.

Let’s pause now and once again glorify God.

Like your angels, Lord, we bow our heads to you. We lift our hands and voices in praise. And yes, we even dare to look upon your beauty and majesty, our hearts filled with hope and joy, knowing you accept our praise and rejoin us to you despite our sin.

Inspire us this day with a new sense of your glory. Let us reflect your glory to others, that they may know the truth of who you are, and your kingdom may grow.

Thank you for the birth of Jesus Christ. Thank you for his life perfectly lived, and his perfectly obedient death. Thank you for the glory of the resurrection.

May the hope and glory of Christmas sustain us throughout the year.

Amen.


The featured image is “Glory of the Newborn Christ,” ceiling painting by Daniel Gran, 1694-1757.

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Flesh Like Ours

First Sunday of Christmas

Hebrews 2:14-18 (NRSV): Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

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‘Tis the season to remember God behaving strangely.

For thousands of years, humans thought of gods as peculiar, distant beings. They were demanding, capricious things to be appeased.

If you were particularly lucky, the One True God, the Creator God, revealed himself to you in obscure ways: a voice, an impulse, a burning bush. But to see his face was to invite death. For sinful humans, a full dose of holiness was poison.

The One True God did eventually tell us his name, “I Am,” hinting that greater intimacy was possible. The great I Am also made promises. You turned away from me, and now pain and death are your chosen portion. But one will come to deliver all of humanity.

Imaginations reeled at the possibilities. Perhaps I Am would raise up a mighty king, one swift and terrible in his power, destroying all who failed to swear allegiance to the One True God. God’s people, the Israelites, would rule the world. And I Am would smile on them in what the prophets called The Day of the Lord.

That’s the kind of messiah the human imagination creates—a mighty man, a prince of fire, a holy Rambo for the ages.

A show of power was standard operating procedure for any god. And certainly, the One True God had revealed his power before. What else should humanity expect of God Almighty?

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

God in squirming baby flesh? God in poverty, born in a barn? That’s strange.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

God as the loving peacemaker, offering grace to his enemies and exhorting us to do the same? That’s stranger still.

“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.”

The Son of God nailed to a cross? The sinless God-man dying for our sins? Bizarre.

Once you accept those ideas, the mystery of the resurrection begins to make sense. If the Creator God wrapped himself in humanity only to be vanquished by death, wouldn’t the universe dissolve? Jesus had to walk out of the tomb.

Let us revel in this strange time of year, when we remember God doing the unexpected and anticipate the promised return of Jesus Christ, Lord of all.

‘Tis the season of the flesh and blood God.

A Priest for All Times

Hebrews 5:1-10 (and beyond)

I’ve mentioned before that I like the mysteries of Christianity. There are basics about our faith that are easy to understand, so easy that a child can believe them and be saved. Those basics are only the front door to a vast mansion, however, one with so many treasure-filled rooms that we cannot explore it all in a lifetime.

Christians living at their best follow up the basics by exploring the mysteries, in the process growing to be more Christ-like in their own being. The New Testament book of Hebrews points us down this path of exploration.

The author (himself a mystery) links Jesus Christ to an ancient Old Testament character, Melchizedek, who had in many ways puzzled Jews for centuries. You may recall his being mentioned in Genesis 14, as Abram returns from rescuing Lot and his family, who had been taken in war. Out of nowhere comes Melchizedek, a “priest of God Most High.” He also is described as king of “Salem,” possibly the area that would one day become known as Jerusalem.

This mysterious priest predates the Jewish people and seems to have an understanding of the one true God the Jews would later be called to worship exclusively. He blesses Abram, and Abram gives him a tithe, 10 percent, of his possessions. Melchizedek also appears in Psalm 110, a prophecy of the Messiah.

The original audience for Hebrews was used to the idea of priests, human beings who made sacrifices for their own sins and for the sins of the people. The laws given to Moses by God dictated from which particular lineage these priests were supposed to come. The Book of Hebrews is trying to show us there is a higher priesthood, however, one timeless, eternal, and ordained by God for the complete salvation of humanity.

Melchizedek seemed to come out of nowhere, “without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” In this way, he resembled and foreshadowed Jesus Christ, who in his earthly life was beyond understanding.

The author of Hebrews is pointing us toward Christ’s divinity, toward the understanding we now have that the Spirit within Jesus is eternal, present at the creation, carrying his followers with him through an endless eternity despite their mortal fragility.

If you don’t quite get the Jesus-Melchizedek connection, it’s okay. In fact, if you feel stretched spiritually and mentally, that’s good.

We’re being invited to meditate on concepts that take us to the limit of human understanding. When we slow down and meditate on such things, we are better for it, even if we do not fully grasp the answers.

It is similar to when we talk about Jesus being both 100 percent human and 100 percent divine, or when we assert God is one being expressed as three persons, or when we dwell on what creation must look like post-resurrection.

We are, to borrow the author’s words, avoiding becoming “dull in understanding,” learning to eat “solid food” rather than infant’s milk. That solid food causes us to grow. It’s unlikely a human mind can grasp these concepts fully, but in trying, we glimpse what the divine mind must look like.

Over time, we also should develop new abilities from these brushes with God. Hebrews points out what made Christ effective, and for human beings, these attributes are counterintuitive. We see power, be it expressed in physical, political, financial, mental or other worldly categories, as the driving force shaping humanity. But salvation came from one who carried in him the mind of God, yet humbled himself to the point of dying a low, shameful death on a cross.

Hebrews celebrates Christ’s willingness to offer supplications—prayers rooted in deep humility—despite Jesus’ divine right to seek exaltation. Hebrews points to Christ’s suffering, despite his right to demand glory. Hebrews reminds us that Christ was obedient to the end, even unto death.

These ultimately are attributes we should seek for ourselves, too, if we are to follow Christ. How humility and obedient submission benefit us remains a mystery, particularly if we have yet to live into these concepts. Truth is truth, however, and if we believe in Christ we must follow the mysterious truths revealed to us in Hebrews.