Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 18, 2022
Reader: “Jesus Christ is,”
Response: “the light of the world.”
Scripture: Hebrews 13:7-17
Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.
We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.
Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.
Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.
Before narrowing in on the specifics of the nativity of Jesus, it is important to see the grandest picture. One of the themes of these first two weeks of advent has been the Second Coming of Christ in a glorified human body to bring final judgment, and establish a new creation in God’s eternal kingdom. John the Baptist has played a primary role in announcing the coming of this human Savior. Before proceeding into some of the specifics of the Nativity itself in the coming days, this pericope in Hebrews gives us one last final overview.
Why did God take on human flesh? He became incarnate to bring restoration to the whole created order. But why a human being? Jesus is responsible for the creation of all human beings. In order to fully and completely identify with people, of necessity he became one of us in every way. If his sacrifice for our sin was to be efficacious on our behalf, God had to have true human flesh and blood, otherwise the death on the cross would have been an ethereal sacrifice, a phantom, not the real thing. A Jesus that was not completely human could not identify with us anymore than we identify with a fly. The incarnation of Christ was verifiably real because, upon the death of his Son, God the Father split the curtain in the Temple. Jesus had to be human for God’s plan to have meaning. So the blood of the sacrifice had to be human and divine and had to have no taint of sin. As a result, the blood is eternally effective, yesterday, today, and forever. All yesterdays and tomorrows are covered.
Concerning the “today” part, Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand interceding on our behalf. He is praying for you today. It’s a comfort to know Jesus prays for his children even when we are unaware. He is fully tuned to everything happening in your life today and in our world. He knows every world headline right now. He is surprised by nothing.
Finally, as regards the “forever,” he will come again to restore all, making a new creation and then rule for all eternity. Forever means Jesus will never change. The nativity is concerned with an eternal destination for his children. By implication, this epistle reminds us that “this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” Jesus’ time on earth was his pilgrimage beginning in Bethlehem going all the way to the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is thus able to relate in both earthly time and eternity in heaven at the same time. Our journey with him gives us the same opportunity during these days of advent. Don’t get caught living only on earth!
Music: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Wheaton College Choir and Symphony Orchestra
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmtKlOB-0-I Spirituals Choir (another joyous setting!)
Lord God, Father of our Messiah, the one who is the source of perfect knowledge, perfect understanding, heavenly timing, merciful patience, and compassionate judgment, forgive us Lord for our narrow, short-sighted understanding of the Nativity. This Christmas may we grasp a bigger picture of your restoration plan than we know now. In gratitude for your mercy, we pray this through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp