This is a copy of a talk I gave at Emmanuel, Billericay at The First Communion of Christmas on Christmas Eve 2022. The Bible Reading was Hebrews 1:1-14
We live in a society which recognizes the necessity of good communication. Letters, or snail mail, as some people refer to them, are fast becoming a medium of a bygone age, as is email, especially with the onset of Websites, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Even the telephone is not as pioneering as it once was – unless, of course, you have a mobile that allows you to: send text messages and emails; surf the Internet; and take photographs. Some of the more ‘hi-tech’ models allow you to record video and even watch TV! I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would make of it all? But good communication is vital to us.
Politicians know how strategic it is to be able to convey their policies. Diplomats recognize the immense dangers that can arise in international affairs when there’s a serious ‘breakdown in communications’. Stresses in family life often arise when husbands and wives and parents and children fail to communicate effectively.
Why is it, whenever you are loading the car to go on holiday or getting ready for an evening out, you have a bust up? It happens to all of us – but it’s never my fault!
And we all know the influencing power of TV advertising, another form of communication – especially at this time of year. I’m sure there are adverts, going back many years that stick in your mind. Can you remember some of these: Can you fix it? No … but I know a man who can (AA). Clunk Click … every trip (seatbelts). Just one Cornetto, give it to me … delicious ice cream from Italy (Walls Ice Cream). I used to think those were the actual words, until I heard Pavarotti singing O Sole Mio!
1. Do you want to hear God speak?
Have you ever wanted God to communicate with you? Do you want to hear God speak? Have you ever, in a moment of desperation, cried out: “O God, if I could only hear your voice. If you would only make yourself known to me!”
Hebrews 1:1-2 teaches us is that God has spoken in two phases: before the coming of the Son and through the coming of the Son: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” We see three things from these verses:
a) God spoke Firstly, we see that God spoke. He wasn’t silent, He communicated.
b) God spoke ‘through the prophets’ God’s usual way of communicating with his people was to call a prophet and then inspire that prophet to speak what He wanted his people to hear.
c) God spoke to the forefathers through the prophets ‘at many times and in various ways’ This should be a great encouragement to us. Why? Because it stresses the diversity of God’s communication – though some of those various ways are hard to understand:
Prophets; preachers; prayer; His Word; is creation; silence; talking donkeys; dreams; visions; a burning bush; the mouths of babes and infants; rainbows; the still small voice and so on. We never know when God will turn up or whom he’ll speak through, or what unlikely scenario he’ll use for His purpose. He speaks, in the words of Garrison Keillor: in
Ordinary things like cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids – all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through.
In fact, it seems to me that, God doesn’t just speak to us, he shouts at us but, for whatever reason, our ears are deaf to what he is saying. But if God had only spoken in one way and we couldn’t understand it, we’d be at a great disadvantage. But God hasn’t done it that way. He has spoken at many times and in various ways.
So, for example, if you have difficulty in grasping his word in Leviticus, you may hear him clearly in Proverbs. If you don’t see the point clearly in Zephaniah, you may still be deeply moved by the message of Jonah. If you don’t catch on to the strange visions in Ezekiel, you may be sustained by the sufferings of Job.
The point is that God deliberately provided a number of ways in the OT where you can hear him speak: at many times and in various ways. And so, we are either not listening to what he is saying or we have heard what he has said, only we don’t like what we hear, so we ‘turn a deaf ear!’
2. Christmas reminds us that Jesus is God’s Son and that He speaks on His Father’s behalf
Vs2a: “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” Now the point here is that if God was eager to communicate with us in the OT how much more is he ready to communicate through the sending of his Son?
Hebrews 1:2-3 suggests seven ways that God speaking through Jesus is better than God’s speaking of old. Why? Because Jesus is: The Heir of all things, vs2; The Creator of all things, vs2; The Sustainer of the Universe, vs3; The Radiance of God’s glory, vs3; The Exact Representation of His Father, vs3; The Saviour of Mankind, vs3; The Ruler of all, vs3.
Jesus said: If you have seen me you have seen the Father; The Father and I are one; I only say what the Father tells me to say. So, when we complain to God: “Lord, I want to hear you speak to me?” Is our complaint well placed? Probably not!
3. Jesus is Superior to all Angels
The writer turns his attention to the fact that Jesus is superior, not only to the prophets, but also to the angels. Angels are a hot topic in our world today. If you type the word ‘Angel’ into an internet ‘search engine’ it will hit more than 1,230,000,000 websites given over to the study of Angels and peoples experiences of a ‘guardian angel’ watching over them.
Many would agree with Robbie Williams’s song ‘Angels’ when he sings that angels: ‘Offer me protection, a lot of love and affection whether I’m right or wrong?’
Everyone has their own idea of what angels may be like. Some see them as chubby little cherubs wearing a halo with a smile on their face, playing cupid; others may see them on a scale similar to the Anthony Gormley sculpture on the A1 just outside Gateshead, whilst King Charles once referred to it as a ‘monstrous carbuncle!’ we know it as ‘The Angel of the North.’ Others see them as simply quaint ornaments to be perched on top of the Christmas tree!
Michelangelo, who spent four years of his life painting the fresco in the Sistine Chapel, painted angels as muscular and majestic human beings. Well worth visiting if you get the chance.
Whichever way you imagine angels might look, they are definitely not humans, especially not deceased human beings who earn their wings as portrayed in Frank Capra’s classic movie: “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The Greek word for angels means literally ‘messenger.’ They are mentioned 100 times in OT and 165 in NT. The Bible tells us they were supernatural creatures created by God before the creation of the world. They wield terrific power. One angel alone killed 185,000 men in one night when the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem (2 Kings 19). Most of the time we read that people fell down ‘as if dead’ when confronted by one.
In fact, angels usually have to tell the people they meet not to be afraid. There are many instances of angels appearing to people in the Bible. An angel intervened when Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. An angel appeared to Mary to give her the news that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and will give birth to a son. A heavenly host of Angels appeared to the shepherds and gave them the news of the birth of the Messiah.
But why is it important for us to realize that Jesus is superior? The writer gives five reasons:
a) Jesus is Superior Because He is the Son (vs4-5)
b) Jesus is Superior because he is Worthy of Worship (vs6)
c) Jesus is Superior because he is the Anointed one (vs7-9 & 13)
d) Jesus is Superior because he is the Creator (vs10-12)
e) Jesus is Superior because he is the Ruler (vs14)
4. Christmas reminds us that God is speaking to us, better and greater than before, in Jesus
Emmanuel – God is with us is a story of love. Father Damien was an American priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao, a village on the island of Molokai in Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony.
For sixteen years he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced bodies no one else would touch and preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built two thousand coffins by hand so that when they died, they could be buried with dignity.
Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope. He wasn’t careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the [poi] bowl along with his patients. He shared his pipe. He didn’t always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close and for this the people loved him. Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers …” He moved from just helping them to becoming one of them. He had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died.
God came to earth and began his message: “We lepers …” He didn’t just offer us help from a distance; through the prophets of old or angelic visits, He became one of us. He chose to live as we live and to die as we died. Many people didn’t recognise him as God, of course. They were looking for something with a bit more glitz. They expected more in the way of special effects, not someone who would take on all our limitations.
Many people saw him, but only a few recognised him. The politicians didn’t recognise him. The innkeeper didn’t recognise him. The crowds gathered for the census didn’t recognise him. The rich and the famous didn’t recognise him. Even the religious establishment didn’t recognise him.
Do you recognise him? Do you recognise the God who revealed himself by living as an asylum-seeker with a price on his head? Do you recognise the God who was ‘despised and rejected by man?’ Do you recognise the God who was often abused and ridiculed? Do you recognise the God became flesh and dwelt among us?
Until we recognise that God really did come down to earth that first Christmas to communicate his message of Salvation with us through His son – then we haven’t even begun to understand the true meaning of Christmas. But there’s no better time than now.
At Christmas God bursts into our world and shows us what He is like and how much he loves us. The story of God coming to earth is one of the greatest love stories of all time.