2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for is, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. he will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this tome onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but 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. 3He 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 of high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5For 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?” 6And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”
8But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heaves are the work of your hands; 11they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; 12like 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.”
13But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?” 14Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Couple of times over the last year, I've bumped into the book of Hebrews. Now this is not a new book to me. The benediction I offer at the end of each service comes from Hebrews 13. I've even preached on a couple of passages in Hebrews over the years.
But I don't know this book as well as I should.
So I'm going to live in this book for the next six weeks. The upshot for our family of faith is that we're going to have a sermon series that focuses on this book.
Hebrews doesn't give us many clues about its origin. There's no named author, there's no address at the beginning, there's not a historical anchor point. Scholars makes educated guesses on those things, trying to pin down some semblance of a historical context so we can understand the world behind the text, but it's all speculative.
Although it resists historical analysis, the book of Hebrews takes a familiar form. "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." This is not the beginning of a letter, or of a theological essay. The Book of Hebrews is meant to be read aloud. Its words are more than thoughtful, they are meant to fill the air and to ring in the ears of a community gathered for worship.
Hebrews is a sermon.
We get other sermons in the New Testament. Acts is full of lively, evangelistic sermons that start new churches off and bring new believer into the fold. They’re powerful testimonies to God’s glory, gathering new believers by the thousands.
But Hebrews is not for new churches. This sermon assumes we know who Jesus is. When then Preacher tells us that “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 world,” he knows that our minds are immediately going to Christ our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth.
This sermon is not entry level Christianity. This is a sermon for a mature church, but one that is weary from living in the world but belonging to God. This is a sermon for a church that has settled into its ways, maybe even one that is stuck.
Probably not a surprise, then, that this preacher wants to get to know this sermon better. We’ve been there. This community knows what it’s like to be stuck, holding together so tightly that we cannot move, because we’re afraid that if we let go, we’ll fall apart. We know what it’s like to feel like we don’t have the energy to reach outside our own walls, whether that’s to our community or to the other congregations in our Presbyterian family. We know what it’s like to wonder if we could sustain ourselves for much longer.
Through the grace and providence of God, we did not fall apart, we did not cut off from our community or our fellow Presbyterians, we did not collapse under the weight of our burdens. We are already making the long turn towards renewal. We know that the Holy Spirit is shaping us to be messengers of God’s word and followers of Jesus Christ.
But the church to whom Hebrews was written seems to be on the edge of that turn. They are still crying the burdens we may recognize from our recent history. They may be tempted to follow what is most prudent, instead of what is most faithful. They may be tempted to settle for “niceness” instead of love. They may be tempted to trust the power of positive thinking, rather than the steadfast love of the LORD.
They may want a pat on the head, and a platitude that it’s good enough, but The Preacher of Hebrews sees the weariness in his congregation’s eyes he gives them Jesus. “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.”
Instead of letting a tired congregation go gentle into that good night, the author of Hebrews sets before them a challenge. They are challenged to grab hold of Jesus, to wrestle with the glory of God, and to become messengers of the powerful word. When we see the glory of God reflected in the identity of Jesus Christ, how can we do anything other than follow. When God speaks to us, which we know most fully through Jesus Christ, it “…is a holy summons, a disturbance of our peace.” It will not let us just sit back and spectate as God does work in the world, it invites us to spring into being.
The Holy Spirit, the glory of God and the powerful word of Jesus Christ will not let us stay stuck. They free us to follow, obey, and serve the Lord Jesus. “When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superiors to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Hebrews feeds those who study it a steady diet of Christ Jesus, and makes sure that we know that he is superior to all other powers. Even the other messengers of God, whether those be the prophets through whom God spoke to our ancestors, or angels. The remainder of this chapter compares the angels to our Lord Jesus Christ. “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you?’” The implied answer, of course, is none. Only Jesus is the Son of God. The mature Christians in the church who first heard Hebrews preached would immediately recognize the references, and would be able to call back with the answers to the Preacher’s questions.
They know the gospel, but it’s so easy to get stuck. It’s so easy for our limited sight to grow blind to the eternal truths that God has revealed to us. After all, the world seems to tell us that power belongs to the powerful, that the final word belongs to the one who yells the loudest. But we know that that is not the case. "The Preacher of Hebrews assures his congregation that, when all is said and done, life does not belong to the demagogue, the oppressor, the tyrant, or the warrior; it belongs to Jesus Christ."
We know that “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heaves 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.” Even though it can be exhausting, we know that there is a truth beyond the facts we can see, because we know that the story does not end on the cross, but that the tomb is empty and Jesus has ascended into heaven. Why in the world, then, would we settle for what is merely prudent or effective, when we could instead choose faithfulness.
Faced with a weary congregation, the Preacher of Hebrews doesn’t turn to trendy worship, or to feel good programs. Those will change like clothes. He doesn’t preach ethics or morality, which is bound to the culture that produces it. The preacher gives his congregation Jesus, the eternal love of God who sustains everything through his powerful word.
Following Jesus is about more than feeling the touch of our better angels, for to which of the angels did God ever say… the many things that are contained in this passage of scripture. We must not stop with the touch of our better angels, for we have been touched by the glory, imprint, and powerful word of Christ Jesus, who rules without end.
And as we step off into the future that God has already prepared for us, we know that wherever we may travel along this road, we will doing it following Jesus, the Son of God, the heir of all creation, our savior and Lord. Amen.