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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Born With Us and For Us (Hebrews 2.14-15)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 24, 2016 (Christmas Eve)
Text: Hebrews 2:14-15

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Gathering Music: Venite Adoremus (Wilson) - Linda Jenkins, organ; Rick Bean, piano
The Word in Music: Antiphonal Noel (Raney) - handbells and choir
Hymn: The First Noel
The Word in Music: He is Here! (Heckler, McGlohon, Cterling) - choir
The Word in Music: Light of the World (Daigle) - Kathleen and Karla Katibah, dancers
Music for Reflection: Born that We May Have Life (Tomlin, Cash) - worship team, choir
Music for Reflection: Adoramus Te (Salyn) - worship team
Hymn: Angels We Have Heard on High (Mendelssohn)
Music during Candlelighting: Silent Night Instrumental - Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn: Joy to the World (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Joy to the World - Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Tonight I want to speak briefly to what God put into motion with the birth of Jesus. Actually Scripture shows us that God’s plan started long before Jesus was born; but tonight we will focus on the meaning of his birth. Looking to these two verses in Hebrews, I want to point out the two simple truths there in the title of my message: Jesus was born with us and Jesus was born for us.

First, Jesus was born WITH us. You may have heard the name, Emmanuel, used for Jesus. It is a Hebrew word which means “God with us.” And the claim of Scripture is not just that God came a-visiting, but that God took on humanity. This letter to the Hebrews, written to explain Jesus in terms of the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament), uses the phrase “flesh and blood” to describe this taking on of humanity. It says that Jesus “partook of our flesh and blood.” Later on in Hebrews, the writer goes on at length to explain what “flesh and blood” or “born with us” means. Jesus was not only God-in-the-flesh, but experienced what it is to be human, from birth to death and everything in between. He got hungry, he was tempted, he got cold. “No crying he makes” – I don’t believe it! He cried and wept as an adult; I don’t see why he wouldn’t have cried as a child. The whole point is that God did not zap us from the outside, but came and lived among us. The young disciple, John, who traveled with Jesus as a young teenager, would later write about Jesus, “In Jesus, God moved into the neighborhood; he made a home with us and as one of us.” (John 1:14) And yet John goes on to say that Jesus was not merely human; he also showed us the very glory of God because he was from God and he was God.

How do we possibly understand this? I think it’s more relatable and understandable than you may realize. If you’ve ever been around very young children, you’ve observed the difference between them having to interact with these large beings to whom they are only shin or knee-high. The conversations are, literally, above their heads. But have you ever seen what happens if they are playing on the floor and an adult gets down there with them? You enter into their world, their experience, their frustrations and delights. So, God has come among us to be a part of our lives “down here” – to enter into our world, our experience, our frustrations, and our delights.

Hebrews also tells us that Jesus was born FOR us. The worship team and choir sang about this earlier in the service: “He was born that we might have life.” Jesus’ birth was not only that God might enter into our world and our experience, but so that God might reach us, teach us, and rescue us. Hebrews uses the imagery of slavery to describe the hold that death and evil have on us. And Jesus was born with us – among us – in order to act for us, to free us from that slavery to death and evil. That is, of course, the story of Easter and his death and resurrection. But it was not a surprise that came out of the hearts of those who opposed him; it was the intended course and purpose of his life.

How can we understand this? Let me offer another illustration. In more than a few places, Scripture speaks of the impact of sin, selfishness, and evil on our lives. We are drowning in those things and our lives – emotional, spiritual, mental, and eternal – are at risk. God could simply pitch us the metaphorical life preserver, leaving us to grab hold, hold on, and be pulled to safety. In some ways, the Old Testament Law functioned in this way. But ultimately, God saves us through Jesus by diving into the very waters in which we are drowning, swimming to us, grabbing hold of us, and pulling us to safety. Jesus’ birth was the conscious decision of God to dive into the waters of humanity, with the purpose of doing it for us – coming after us – firmly in mind.

Finally, it is worth noting that Hebrews doesn’t just define the “for us” as life hereafter. Rather, what Jesus has done for us is “free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Knowing, trusting, believing this Jesus… makes a difference NOW, during this life. While it doesn’t cover everything, “enslavement to the fear of death” covers a lot of what steers and binds and holds us captive in this life. The claim of Scripture and the claim of Jesus himself is that trusting and following him makes a difference NOW as well as in eternity.

I would be failing you to not speak this to you tonight. It is the heart of Christmas. It is what all these portions of the story you’ve heard tonight point toward. It is good, good news in a time when we really need good news. Listen: Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, is God at work here and now – born with us and for us; born with YOU and for YOU. May God give each of us ears to hear and hearts to receive His Word. Amen.

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