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Saturday, January 4, 2020

To You is Born a Savior (Hebrews 1)

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“To You is Born a Savior” (Hebrews 1-2)
Rob Tennant, Hillside Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Christmas Eve, Dec 24, 2019

            We’re coming to you live from Chapel Hill, North Carolina!  Merry Christmas!  We live in heart of great learning and great college spirit and sports; Chapel Hill is home of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
Suppose a few months from now, springtime, when 60 degrees feels down right balmy after a couple of weeks where the high is 35 – suppose you walk across campus.  After months inside huddled up avoiding the cold, people will be out all over. 
So, walking across campus on this wonderful spring day, you survey people.  Each one willing to talk to you, professor, student, maintenance worker – everyone; you ask, “Who is Jesus?  What do you think of him?”
You’ll hear a variety of answers.  Some might say “He’s the baby born in the manger,” but I don’t think you’d get that answer too often.  You would if you conducted this survey right now; Christmas is on everyone’s mind.  We’ve heard “Away in a Manger” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” about 100 times by now.  But right now, no one is on campus.  Imagine asking this question months from now.  Who is Jesus? What do you think of him?
Some might say something about Easter.  You’re asking this in March. 
Some might say vile things just to rile you up because there are people on college campuses who love agitating just for the sake of agitation! 
Some will say something like Jesus is the Son of God and savior of the world.  Contrary to popular belief, there are true Jesus-followers on UNC’s campus. 
Questions like this posted to random people help church insiders see the varied opinions people in the world have about Jesus.  On Christmas Eve, most people talk favorably about him.  Radio stations play Christmas music on an endless loop from Thanksgiving through the end of the year.  Pop stars, country music stars, R&B stars, rappers, hard rockers – they all do a Christmas album at some point.  They all perform on TV Christmas specials. 
There on the holiday special is the singer who shocked the nation with her see-through dress as she sang about lurid sex on stage at one of last year’s awards shows.  Now you see her dressed just a bit more modestly and she’s singing, “Hark the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born king.’”  That’s worship music!  She’s Christian!  Ah, the second verse … “Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord.”   Who but a follower of Jesus could sing such words?  Now hear this.  It is possible she does indeed believe in Jesus and at the same time lives hedonistically and as a bit of an exhibitionist.  Christians are not perfect and even in church, we are not perfectly consistent in living our faith.  We try. 
The problem with Christmas praise of Jesus is after Christmas day, the deeply moving confession of faith is stored in a box with the tinsel and artificial boughs of holly.  That faith will be kept in the closet to be brought out next year at this time.  It is a faith that does not lead to life change.  Is that kind of faith truly faith at all?
Who is Jesus?  What do you think of him?
Know this!  The shepherds mentioned in so many hymns and carols sung by pop stars and by us were in search of something more.  Those shepherds stationed in tableau on fireplace nativity sets across America did not rush out of the fields and into Bethlehem to see a baby.  They worked with animals.  They watched thousands of births.  They knew the earthiness of birth, the messy beauty, and the wonder.  They appreciated new life, but they weren’t enamored with a peasant couple’s first child.  They had seen human and animal babies born in stables before. 
They ran through the Bethlehem night whooping and hollering and waking everyone up as they praised God because they had been visited by an angel.  The heavenly messenger promised “good news of great joy.”  Babies are beautiful, a wonder, but millions are born every day.  This baby, the angel said, is a “Savior [the Savior], the Messiah, the Lord.”
I’ve talked before about lectionaries – cycles of scriptures readings.  One of the passages scheduled for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in the Roman Catholic lectionary is Hebrews chapter 1-2.  I’m asking “Who is Jesus?  What do you think of him?”  We’ve already identified that he’s the baby we sing about and a Heavenly messenger proclaimed him Lord, Messiah (which means promised, anointed one), and Savior. 
Let’s put those questions to the writer of Hebrews and the reading for today.  Who is Jesus?  In Chapter 1, verse 1, he is identified as the Son – the son of God.  Verse 2 - he is the heir of all things and it is through him that God created all worlds.  God the Son didn’t come into being at the birth of Jesus.  He always existed.  When Jesus was born, God the Son entered human flesh.
Verses 3-4, and I quote: “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.  When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High, having become as much superior to angels the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs.”  That’s a mouthful and I won’t try to unpack all the theology contained in these verses.  I simply summarize by saying the baby in the manger in our nativity sets is Jesus the savior and sustainer of all things.  The world would not turn and the universe would not hold together without him.   
In Hebrews 1:8 God is quoted as saying to the son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”  The final words to the hymn “Silent Night” are, “Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”  Hebrews chapter 1 is the Biblical foundation for this faith claim that Jesus was Lord even before he was born. 
The incarnation is a mystery.  How could God Almighty, the ultimate power and ultimate personality in the entire universe step out of divinity, empty himself as it’s described in Philippians 2:7, and enter the body of a human newborn?  Did the baby Jesus know he was God?  I don’t think so.  I think he did what all babies do.  Cry, sleep, eat, poop, and repeat.  He was fully human.  At the same, he was fully God.  How that fits together I cannot perfectly explain.  I just believe it. 
Reading Hebrews alongside the Gospels, we see who Jesus is.  Tonight, an equally important question is what do you think of him?  I don’t know what the pop star who sings the songs on the TV Christmas special thinks of Jesus.  Her faith is out of my jurisdiction unless she happens to be in this worship service tonight!
I am concerned about your relationship with Jesus.  He loves you.  The whole Christmas story is the opening chapter of God’s love letter to you.  That’s why God the Son stepped out of Divine space and restricted himself to the confines of our world in human flesh.  Jesus is God’s declaration of love for you.
You can enter into a real relationship with God by putting your faith in Jesus.  You can do that tonight.  We have a few moments of worship left.  Acknowledge your need for God’s forgiveness.  Confess your sins and ask Jesus to come into your heart as your Savior and Lord.  Turn away from sin and to Him.  No matter what’s happened in your life, he’s welcoming you with a divine smile and arms outstretched.  He’s got a heavenly embrace for you.  He truly the Savior the angel promised the shepherds.  Give your life to Him. 
We end our service by singing “Silent Night” by candle light.  Our candles are lit from the flame that burns on the Christ candle.  If you have never entrusted yourself to Jesus and you want His light in your life, after the service, I’ll be happy to pray with you and talk you through the process of inviting Him into your heart. 
Let us Pray.

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