Advent 4: The Gift of Revelation

christmas 2013

Frozen Cheeries, December 22, 2013


Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

December 21, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent

Hebrews 1:1-4

 

 

A year ago, on this very Sunday, I did something I had never done in my a quarter century of preaching…  I cancelled church.  Last December was the start of what became an infamous winter up north.  We started the month with heavy snows and cold weather, it just kept coming through mid-April.  Interestingly, however, things warmed up on the Saturday before the fourth Sunday of Advent.  The thermometer inched up above freezing and it started to rain.  It was just miserable—temperature in the mid-30s and pouring rain.   Then, as daylight faded, the rain continued as the temperature inched back below the freezing mark.  This was the making of a disaster.  That evening, we were treated to a better firework display than I’ve ever seen on the fourth of July as the ice on limbs caused them to snap and shorted out power lines, blowing out transformers.  Slowly, various sections of the town and the county went dark.  The roads were too slick to travel and filled with limbs and down lines.

christmas 2013 2

Christmas Eve 2013

The next morning, we along with everyone else in the county, cancelled our worship services.   People fled the area, taking hotel rooms in Grand Rapids and other towns that missed the ice storm.  At the Garrison house, we spent the next day and a half in front of the fireplace and candles burned at night.  When we did get outside, it was to haul debris to the road for pickup, where it remained under a blanket of snow until April.   Thankfully, the power came back on at the church the evening before Christmas Eve.  The church building served as a warming station on Christmas Eve and we were able to have services that night.  However, most of the county was still without power on Christmas Day, some were out for over a week.  It was a Christmas to remember!

Sometime during all this mess of what was last winter, my daughter said she wanted to decorate a palm for our next Christmas tree.  I didn’t realize at the time that she was clairvoyant.  If you drive by our house and see the palm out front decorated, you’ll know why!   She has been too busy with school to get around to it, but she promises as soon as the rain abates…

Today, we’re looking at the fourth “non-tangible” gift we receive at Christmas—the gift of revelation.  Many people think about revelation in relation to the future and especially the end of time, as if it provides a way for us to be clairvoyant of God’s timing.  They forget Jesus’ word that no one knows the day or the hour…[1]  At its core, revelation is about God revealing himself to us.[2]   God is of a different realm and without revelation, we would not about able to know truth about the Almighty.  With the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, God’s revelation is made clear.  In the life of Jesus, we see God and learn what God considers important.  Our text this morning comes from the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 1, verses 1-4.

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Our mission statement here at Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church is to nurture Christians who, by their words and actions, reflect the face of Jesus to the world.  In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that people will experience his ministry through our actions.[3]  This is a big responsibility, and an important one, reflecting the face of Jesus to the world.  But we are equipped to do this because Jesus reflected God’s glory.  Jesus is the complete revelation of God.  Jesus came to show and display divine love.  Jesus came to help us understand who God is and who we are in relationship to God.  Jesus came to cleanse us from sin so that we might come into God’s presence without fear.

Our passage this morning comes from the “Letter to the Hebrews.”  Unlike many of the letters or epistles as they’re also known in the New Testament—those by Paul and Peter, James and John—Hebrews doesn’t appear to be truly a letter.  It has been suggested it might have originally been a sermon,[4] for instead of beginning with the greeting and niceties of a letter, the author starts with the one premise that makes all the difference in the world: God has spoken!  The writer of this sermon reminds his readers that God has been speaking to their ancestors all along, through prophets.  But now God has spoken in an even better way, through a Son.   One of the themes of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus Christ to both human servants of God (prophets) and divine servants or messages of God (angels).

Historically, the church has spoken of Christ holding three offices: prophet, priest and king.  In all three, Christ surpasses human prophets, human priests and human kings.[5]  Throughout this book, the author goes into great detail to show Christ’s preeminence which he proclaims here at the beginning with a sevenfold confirmation of Jesus superiority:

  1. He is appointed heir of all,
  2. The is the creator of the world,
  3. He is the refection of God’s glory,
  4. He is the exact imprint of God,
  5. He upholds all things by his power,
  6. He purifies our sin and
  7. He sits at God’s right hand.[6]

 

God, by coming to us in Jesus Christ, is revealing the nature of the divine in a way we can understand.  That’s why Jesus name is more excellent than all other names, as we’re told in verse 4.  Jesus Christ, our prophet, our priest and our king, the one who came to show us God’s glory and to forgive us so that we are freed to be God’s agents in the world.  During this season, we celebrate what happened at the stable in Bethlehem so long ago.  God came into the world and through Jesus showed the world his love.  But the story doesn’t end in Bethlehem or even at Calvary.   With Jesus, now in our hearts, we are to be the ones reflecting his love to the world so that all people might experience the joy of salvation and have hope.

There is a story that has been told before, you may have heard it, about a farmer who was a good man, but he had a hard time accepting the faith.  He was a good man, for you don’t have to have faith to be good.  He allowed his wife to attend church with the kids.  He’d enjoy his Sunday mornings at home, putting around the barn.

One Christmas Eve, his wife tried to get him to attend church with her and the kids, but he refused.  I’ll just sit and read a book and wait for you to return, he said.  When she insisted and wanted to know why he wouldn’t attend, he said it is because the story is nonsense.  “Why would God lower himself to come to earth as a man?” he asked.

The family left, disappointed, as he began to read his book.  Outside it snowing and cold.  The light was draining from the gray sky.  The man was immersed in his book when he heard a thump.  Then another thump.  He looked out the window and saw a flock of birds around the house and realized it they had been flying into the window in an attempt to escape the cold.  “They must have been migrating,” he thought, “and got caught in the storm.”

He was a good man and so he worried about the birds.  Finally he had an idea.  Pulling on his boots and putting on his coat and hat, he went into the storm that was becoming a blizzard.  He made his way over to the barn and opened the door thinking that the birds could seek shelter there.  But none of them would fly in the direction of the open doors.  He tried to shoo them into the barn, but they all scattered.  He went back inside and grabbed some bread and crumbed it up and sprinkled it on the ground.  The birds began to eat, so he made a path toward the barn, but they stopped short of the doors.

He keep trying to think of another way to lure them into the barn…  “Do you want to just sit out here and freeze to death,” he asked the birds in desperation.  “Why don’t you follow me?”  Of course the birds didn’t answer, they sat in the snow, their feathers puffed out for warmth, picking at whatever crumbs were left.  “If only I was a bird,” he said, “I could come among them and guide them into the barn.”

As soon as he said this to himself, the distant church bell began to ring.  He could hear it faintly from across the valley, as he recalled what he had told his wife earlier, how he questioned why God would come to us in the flesh.  Suddenly he understood what Christmas was about, why Christ had to come.  He fell to his knees in the snow and began to pray…

It would be a mistake to see ourselves as the farmer in this story; we’re one of the birds.  As a Christian, we’re the bird that “gets it,” we’re the one that understands the goodness in the farmer’s heart and therefore leads the flock into shelter, allowing others to come to understand the goodness that comes from our Father in heaven.

Will you be that bird leading others to safety?  Christmas is the most natural time to share your faith, to tell the story, to serve as Christ’s servants, to reflect the face of Jesus to the world.  Amen.

 

©2014

[1]Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32

[2] See the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 1:1 or 6.001) and the Confession of 1967 (Part 1, Section C2 or 9.27) n the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church USA.

[3] Matthew 25:31-46.

[4] Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 33.

[5] See the Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 152-155.

[6] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 3-8.


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