Reading Hebrews 1
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, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
his servants flames of fire.”
But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever,
and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
He also says,
“In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”
Gospel John 1
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
Two of greatest readings in whole of Scripture. Both describe who Jesus is, and what he represents. Profound declaration of what incarnation means.
Author of Hebrews spends most of book celebrating unique status of Jesus as Son of God, through whom God has spoken to us. Like the opening of John’s gospel, the claim is Christ was with God at the very beginning, and took part in creation itself. Through him, John says, were all things made.
Both passages portray a remarkable picture. They could not be further from describing Jesus as an itinerant preacher who did and said many wonderful things and revealed to us the Father. Both pictures are very much the same: they are on an entirely different and higher plane.
According to Hebrews, God appointed the Son as heir of all things, sustainer of all things, agent of creation, and our great high priest who, through his own sacrifice made purification for our sins. But more even than all that, Jesus is the imprint of God’s own essence, the clearest picture we have of what God himself is. Yet the very next chapter focuses on the lowliness of the Son who identifies with us as his sisters and brothers. So we share not only in his humanity, but in his glory as heirs of the promise of God. A staggering thought. It’s almost impossible for us to grasp the enormity of it all.
The imprint or ‘exact representation’ of God means we see God and his image recorded in perfect detail in his Son. More than a mould, a stamp or an engraving – but God’s very DNA revealed in Jesus Christ. We cannot see the Father, but we can observe his perfect likeness through the Son.
The opening of John’s gospel says much the same, this time in philosophical terms. But if we remain on this higher plane, we neglect the very reason why these books were written. Not to enchant us with the glory of it all – though they certainly do that. But to bring us to an understanding of what Jesus represents, and what our response to that should be.
John declares his purpose to be that you may come to believe Jesus is the Messiah, and through believing you may have life in his name. John’s aim is not to wow us with the divinity and glory of the Word made flesh, but he wants us to have a personal encounter with the born and risen Christ and for us to believe in him.
The incarnation means bread is no longer bread, water is no longer water and wine no longer wine. In our Eucharist today all of them reveal the glory of God and call for a response from us. John’s gospel does not leave us floating on the clouds, though: it is an intimate and personal gospel. It has more intimacy than any other. Jesus rubs mud and spit into the blind man’s eyes. Mary anoints feet not head. Mary Magdalene grabs hold of the resurrected Jesus. The disciple whom Jesus loved reclined on his bosom.
Christmas can lift us to the heights, as angels sing, uplifting passages are read, and we see his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. But I invite you, this Christmas, not to gaze upward and be dazzled by the glory and majesty of it all. Instead, look down and see the intimacy of the Christmas message, the personal nature of the response John calls on us to make, and perhaps see in it the Christ of Easter overshadowing the Christ of Christmas. Amen