03 Dec The Miracle of the Message
The Miracle of the Message
Hebrews 1:1-4 and John 1:1-14
December 6, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Join us for Live Worship from YouTube at 10:00 a.m. (That is also the link to view the recorded service!)
- You will the adult worship guide here .
- The children’s worship guide here.
- Click here for the link to give your offering online. (Thank you!)
One of the things I love most about Advent is the music. Christmas carols and holiday songs fill the season with joy. From Jingle Bell Rock to Silent Night, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas to Hark the Herald Angels Sing, the sounds of the season are as much a part of our Advent experience as are the sights of tinsel-draped trees, poinsettias, bathrobe-clad shepherds, and twinkling stars.
But what if you couldn’t hear any of the sounds of Advent? What if this was a silent season for you? In our own backyard, Washington D.C. is home to Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private college for the education of those who are deaf and hearing-impaired. It was founded in 1864—156 years ago—and was originally a grammar school for both deaf and blind children.
American sign language is the name of the language by which the deaf and hearing-impaired communicate. According to the National Association for the Deaf, American sign language is the backbone of deaf culture in America. It is a language that any of us would want to learn if we had a child or grandchild who was hearing impaired. We would want to be able to communicate with them, to tell them how much we loved them, how valuable they were to us and how much they mattered to God. Learning sign language wouldn’t be a burden; it would be an expression of love.
That picture, of a parent or grandparent eagerly learning a language in order to communicate with a beloved child, is a living parable of the Incarnation. Here we are, busy with our lives, pursuing our plans and goals, going about our business, all the while being largely deaf to God’s voice. We don’t hear what God is saying to us. God has been speaking and communicating all along, but we haven’t been getting it. But rather than throw up his hands in frustration, God loves us so much that God desperately wants to reveal himself to us in ways we can understand. So, God sends Jesus to communicate the divine message in a way that we can hear and “get it.” This is the miracle of Christmas. It is the miracle of the message.
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,” the writer of Hebrews tells us (1:1-2). God wants us to hear what he is saying, so God takes the responsibility for communicating in a language that we can grasp. It’s not unlike what I do each week in the Children’s Time, when I take a biblical or theological truth and try to tell it in such a way that children can relate to it. Teachers and parents do it all the time—they teach their lessons or the lessons of life in age-appropriate language so that children can establish a foundation of learning and then build on that foundation.
Scripture records that God began speaking to us from the first moments of creation. Creation is one big message of divine self-revelation. It’s a language through which God communicates who God is and invites us into relationship with him. German theologian Jurgen Moltmann asks the question, why did God create? Was it in some way necessary for God to do it? Moltmann says, no, it wasn’t required of God; creation is the result of a divine love and joy that so overflow, something new and good and creative naturally arises. The sunrise and sunsets that paint the skies with such a splendid array of colors; the sun and moon and stars that sustain life and establish order and time; the majesty of mountains and oceans; the nearly endless variety of plants and vegetation; the jaw-dropping diversity in human beings. Through all of it God is speaking, communicating important truths about who God is, about God’s longings for creation, and how much God loves us.
God also speaks through history. The Jewish scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, are the account of one people’s recording of God’s voice through their own history and story. God spoke to Moses at the burning bush. God spoke to the Israelites from the smoke and fire on the mountain. God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice and to Isaiah in a vision in the temple. God spoke to Hosea through his family circumstances and to Amos in a basket of summer fruit. The Lord spoke to Jeremiah through a potter’s lump of clay and to Joseph through his dreams. God spoke through angels, through visions, through symbols, through natural events, even through a donkey’s mouth.
God revealed himself in Ur of the Chaldees, in Haran, in Canaan, in Egypt and Babylon. Whether the people were enslaved, or in a foreign land in exile, or at home in the temple in Jerusalem, God spoke. Though peasants and kings, prophets and priests, God spoke. Israel’s history demonstrates that God does not speak in a monotone, always in the same place or in the same way. God has been speaking throughout human history in a variety of places and a variety of means in order to show us who God is, what God desires for our lives, our relationships and our world.
When we studied the twelve minor prophets last year, we ended with Malachi. Following Malachi there was 400 years of silence without any prophets to speak to Israel. John the Baptist broke that silence. To that point, each time God spoke and each person God used had only been able to convey a part of the truth of God’s character and nature. No single one of them had the whole story. They couldn’t adequately capture the full picture of God’s purposes and design for the world.
God had been speaking, but people weren’t getting the message. They didn’t understand God’s heart. They didn’t understand God’s plan. Too often, someone claimed to be speaking for God, but they only misrepresented him. Confusion, rather than clarity, was the result.
But now, at long last, God cuts out the middlemen and comes in person to speak through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the most direct, most immediate revelation of God because Jesus doesn’t just come to speak a message from God. Jesus is God’s message.
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of God’s nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” John’s Gospel describes Jesus as the Word of God, wrapped in human flesh, and moving into the neighborhood to live beside us. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus! When Philip asked Jesus to show him God the Father, Jesus said, “Have I been among you all this time without your knowing me, Philip? The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I and the Father are one,” Jesus says again in John chapter 10.
One thing that should be self-evident but that needs to be said anyway is that God doesn’t do all this speaking because God likes the sound of his own voice. There is always a purpose to divine speech. The miracle of the message is not just that God has been speaking and continues to speak to us today; it’s that God’s message is spoken with the intent to transform our lives—and it has the power behind it to accomplish that purpose.
All of us have had the experience of receiving a message that changed our lives. Some of those messages have been devastating: the message from your doctor that the cancer has returned; the message from your employer that your job is disappearing; the message that a family member has tragically and unexpectedly died. Other messages change our lives for the better, bringing incredible joy and delight to us: messages about promotions or retirements or graduations; messages about awards or accolades richly earned and deserved. But I can’t think of anything that changes our lives and brings joy like the message that a baby is on the way or has been born. The arrival of a child or grandchild forever, indelibly transforms us, from how much sleep we get to what our priorities are. In an instant, we are willing to stay up all night to tend a sick child or mortgage our homes or our futures to get them the care they need. We discover reserves of strength we didn’t know we had and a reservoir of love that previously did not exist. That’s what becoming a parent does to us, and I take it on good authority that becoming a grandparent is even better.
Advent delivers a message into our lives of exactly that kind of transforming love. “Nothing whatsoever in heaven or on earth can ever separate you from my love,” God says to us in the person of Jesus Christ. “Trust in me with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge me, and I will direct your paths,” God invites us. In the midst of life’s betrayals and all the bitter messages that get thrown at us, God whispers, “Forgive those who mistreat you.” In times of joy and celebration, God’s voice joins in, shouting, “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad!”
It is the message of Love Incarnate that holds the power to transform our hearts and lives. The miracle of the Advent message is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself—reconciling us, a broken, arrogant, stiff-necked people—to the God who loves us. Jesus came to reveal God’s parental, loving heart in a way we could understand and then invited us to join God in loving and redeeming the world.
Men and women, are you listening? God is speaking to you. Hear the miracle of God’s message, believe it, receive it, and your life will never be the same.
Glory to God in the highest. Amen.