A Christmas reflection (according to the book of Hebrews)

Rarely included in texts read at Christmas is Hebrews’ distinct and rich contribution to the identity of the incarnate Son. In a sense this is not surprising – compared to John’s magnificent and poetic prologue and Matthew and Luke’s compelling birth narratives, Hebrews’s more unfamiliar imagery is harder to relate to.

Here’s a summary of Hebrews on the incarnation for this Christmas.

Hebrews 1:1-4

In the past God spoke to our ancestors 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 also 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.

In these few lines the story of Jesus is beautifully unfolded. God has now spoken through his Son. All previous revelation through the prophets and history of Israel has foreshadowed the coming of the Son.

The Son is described in extraordinary Christological language and accomplishes extraordinary things.

In terms of identity, the writer talks of key moments in the ‘career’ of the Son, not in a neat chronological progression but by moving back and forward between past and present.

Seven things are said of the Son in these few lines:

  1. He is appointed heir of all things by God – when exalted by God after being made lower than the angels for a period of time.
  2. The Son is the one through whom God created the world. The Son therefore existed before engaging in his saving work (not a major theme in Hebrews but important nonetheless).
  3. Ontologically this exalted creator Son embodies the very glory and presence of God himself. Like the dazzling warming rays of the sun are in effect the presence of the sun itself here on earth, so Jesus is the radiance of God. To gaze at the Son is to gaze at God himself.
  4. The Son not only creates but also sustains all things by his powerful word
  5. The Son’s ‘mission’ was to effect the purification for sins (the main theme of Hebrews)
  6. As a result the Son has been exalted to sit at God’s right hand in heaven (a major theme of Hebrews)
  7. He has inherited a name far above that of the angels – he alone is the Son of God (another major theme in Hebrews)

With the Son’s exaltation, Psalm 8:4-6 is fulfilled (Heb 2:5-9)

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor
   and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.  But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

God’s purpose is to exalt and redeem humanity. For this to happen, the preexistent Son has become incarnate, truly ‘one of us’. Humanity’s exaltation is yet to happen. But the author of Hebrews writes to encourage and give hope. The destiny of the exalted Son is the destiny of humanity. He is the pioneer and perfecter of faith – the truly human one who has provided purification for sin through his atoning death. Now crowned with glory, his journey through suffering and death to glory can be followed by those in him.

The author spells out the significance of the incarnation from 2:14ff. Jesus shares in our flesh and blood to break the power of the devil and to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

The Son is “fully human in every way” and this means:

  • He alone can become a merciful and faithful high priest representing humanity
  • He alone can make atonement for the sin
  • As risen and exalted one, he is able to help those who are being tempted because he himself suffered when he was tempted.

This is the astonishing good news of the incarnation according to Hebrews this Christmas – and every Christmas.

Happy Christmas!

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