Christmas Eve: The Glory of God
December 24, 2022

Christmas Eve: The Glory of God

Passage: Hebrews 1:1-5
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Christmas Eve: The Glory of God
Hebrew 1:1-12
by William Klock

 

In our Gospel St. John writes those familiar words about the light who came into the darkness.  There’s something about Advent, with the days growing shorter and the nights growing longer, the sombre tone—and yet the anticipation of coming joy—Advent reminds us of the darkness the world was in, humanity in bondage to sin and to death, evil powers in control of everything, but Advent has also reminded us of the promises of God.  He will not leave this world broken and in darkness forever.  And then those words:

 

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

 

Now we respond, singing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”  But as the Advent lessons have shown us, most of the people in Israel knew nothing of that joy.  Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting.  They wanted a warrior like David, but he rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey.  They wanted someone who would make Israel great again, but instead he walked into the temple, the very centre of Jewish identity, and disrupted the sacrifices, announcing its days were numbered.  They wanted a king who would crush the Romans and put Israel at the top of the heap, but Jesus instead allowed himself to be crucified.  As John writes in the next verses:

 

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  (John 1:10-11)

 

Saul of Tarsus was one of those who did not receive him.  Two days after Christmas the Church commemorates the martyrdom of St. Stephen.  He preached the good news about Jesus and was stoned to death for it.  Saul—or as we more commonly know him, St. Paul—stood by and held their coats.  Paul hated Jesus and everything to do with him.  He hated Jesus’ people and did his part to round them up and to make sure they were put on trial before the Jewish elders, the Sanhedrin.  He was on his way to do just that, travelling to Damascus, when he met the risen Jesus.  The light very literally burst into Paul’s world, knocked him off his horse, and left him temporarily blind.  And as Jesus changed everything when he came into the world, he changed everything for Paul when he came into Paul’s world.  Paul thought he had it all figured out.  He was a rabbi and a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures.  But being confronted by the light, by Jesus, he was forced to admit the stories told about the resurrection were true.  The Lord had raised him from death and overturned the verdict of the people that he was a false messiah.  Jesus really was the Messiah everyone had been waiting for.  And so Paul left Damascus and retreated into Arabia, he says in Galatians, for three years.  He needed time to work this revelation through.

 

Arabia, he writes.  That didn’t mean then quite what it means today.  But if we read between the lines a little, it’s not hard too hard to figure out that Arabia meant Mt. Sinai.  Mt. Sinai was where it had all started, where Israel was born as God’s son, where the law was given, where the covenant was established.  And just as Elijah had gone back to the beginning to sort through his calling and ministry, so did Paul.  And from the beginning he worked through the history of Israel, he worked through the law, he worked through the promises of God in light of Jesus.  And then he came back, ready to preach to his fellow Jews in Damascus and ready to travel to Jerusalem to meet the other apostles.  And I say all this because our lesson from Hebrews makes me think of Paul, emerging from the desert, coming back from Sinai.  The book of Hebrews is anonymous.  We don’t really know who wrote it.  But long-standing tradition attributes it to Paul.  If he didn’t write it, he could have.  But Hebrews, to me, looks very much like the sort of thing Paul would have written to his fellow Jews on his return from those years of thinking on the old covenant, on the torah, on the promises of the God of Israel now fulfilled in Jesus.  It’s the sort of thing he would have written to those people St. John writes about in the Gospel: those people, Jesus’ people, who refused to receive him.  Imagine Paul at Mt. Sinai, at the place where it all started, working through the story of Israel in light of the risen Jesus.  And now he writes:

 

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making 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 to him a father,

         and he shall be to me a son”? (Hebrews 1:1-5)

 

Long ago, in the wilderness, God created a people for himself—a people to carry his light into the darkness.  And at many times and in many ways God spoke to them.  But they refused to listen.  Jesus told a parable about the owner of a vineyard who had to travel to a far country.  He left the vineyard in the care of tenants, who claimed it for their own.  He sent messenger after messenger to set them straight, but they only harassed, abused, and beat those messengers.  They would not listen.  So the man finally sent his own son.  Surely they would listen to him.  But this time they killed the messenger, the man’s beloved son.  And yet, through that death, the vineyard owner reclaimed and renewed what was his in a way no one had ever expected.  Certainly not Paul, not until he met that son, alive again on the road to Damascus.

 

At Christmas we remember that Jesus came into the word in fulfilment of the message and the promise of all those prophets, rejected, harassed, and abused by God’s own people.  Jesus, says our Epistle, is the radiance of God’s glory.  As St. John writes, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  He is the exact imprint.  That’s the language of striking coins—the carefully carved imprint of the king stamped on precious metal.  He is the word, who was there in the beginning, through whom all things were made.  And now he’s come into the world to make all things new again—to fix what we’ve broken and corrupted.  And he’s done it through his death. The owner of the vineyard knew when he sent his son to the wicked tenants that they would kill him, but he also knew that this was the way to reclaim his precious vineyard.  On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of his rebellious people, for the very people who refused and rejected him.  Even for people like Paul, who viciously went after his followers.  He died the death they deserved and was raised from death and seated on his throne at the right hand of God.  The people declared him a false king, but God has enthroned him to rule over all and has received him as his own Son.

 

Brothers and Sisters, Jesus is the one who fulfils the promises of God.  He is the light who has come to drive away the darkness that lies over the world.  Because of that he is the one—as our Advent wreath reminds us—who brings us hope for a world set to rights, he gives us peace with the God whom we have wronged, he restores our joy even as we walk through a broken and fallen world, and he is himself the great manifestation of the love of God.  In him the vineyard owner has sent his own Son to set everything to rights—including us—even though he knew it would mean his death.  Dear Friends, let go everything else, and trust in this one who humbled himself for our sake and, in doing so, has revealed the absolute faithfulness of God.  No one and no thing is more worthy of our faith than this God who, to fulfil his promises, has humbled himself to take on our flesh, to die in our place, and has given us a promise of joy and peace in the age to come.

 

Let’s pray: Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honour and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.

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