Ebenezer means "stone of help," and was the name of a monument raised by the prophet Samuel, saying, "Thus far has the Lord helped us." (1 Sam. 7:12) The hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing includes the line, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come." Through God's grace you and I have made it to today. Our job is to praise God for getting us here and trust him to bring us through tomorrow.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

And Advent Begins

Hebrews 1:2  "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."

Place yourself back in time.  Imagine, no books have been written about Jesus yet, and in fact the thing we know of as the New Testament isn't even a remote thought in anyone's mind. A few copies of letters about The Way are floating around, back and forth among the church leaders in the towns and cities of the empire.  There's also a copy of Jesus' sayings, though you have no idea that someday people named Matthew and Luke will use this as a source for their own gospels.  Those classic accounts have yet to be written. There is no liturgy, no hymnal, no church hierarchy, in fact, no solid body of teachings…in your world there’s just you, your group of believers, and a few itinerant preachers, wandering the Mediterranean.

You’re Jewish.  You’ve given up everything to follow this idea of Jesus the Christ.  Your parents disowned you.  Your synagogue made it clear they don’t want to see your face again.  People who used to do business with you now actively ignore and malign you. 

The Roman occupiers don’t see a big difference between Jews and the new Christians, but they don’t trust your movement anyway.  Something about it seems seditious to them.  So you worship underground, sometimes literally so.  And given the circumstances some days come when you wonder if you’re just a fool for believing in this man who said he was coming back again someday.

And then, one day, you hear a sermon at one of your gatherings.  This is a special sermon, one circulated among the church leaders and written by some great preacher, though already people are unsure of who wrote it.  You hear some people guess it was Apollos.  You've never met him but you know he has a reputation for eloquence.  A few people wonder if it was written by Paul.  You've never met him either but you've heard he is a learned man.  Either way, it's largely unimportant to your fellow Christians who wrote this message, you all just know it is something special.  And moreover, though there are already a lot of gentile Christians, this sermon is meant for you, a Jew.

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.

You feel a chill to hear the speaker just come out and talk like this.  He is explaining exactly what makes this faith different, and why it cannot be reconciled with Judaism as you grew up knowing it.  He explains, right here, why everyone who you know and love has turned against you.  These are the words of a spiritual revolution.  To truly believe them is an act of rebellion against all you have ever known.

But the preacher is bold.  He has this gift you’ve been hearing about called the Holy Spirit. You’re a Jew, so you know of the ruach, the spirit of God, but this is something more personal, more real, more immediate.  You don’t really understand it but you certainly know it is real.  Its power cannot be denied.  And is shivers in the bold voice of the speaker as he declares the divinity of this man:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

You were raised in a mad, mad world, full of violence and oppression. Growing up, you weren't a brilliant scholar of the Torah, but you learned a lot of it, and certainly enough to know the history of your people, where they had been, what they had been, and what had become of them over time. Many times in your youth, and now as well, you were dogged by questions.  If God’s people had sinned so badly that they were now in this sad predicament, how could they ever get out of it?  How could the people ever atone and win God’s favor back?  Was it even possible?  Did God even care anymore?  Was He simply tired of Israel?  Had He turned His back on His nation?

So when you had first heard about Jesus you were skeptical, but your interest was piqued.  You're reminded now of that first flush of hope but also of amazement; aamazement, that a man could provide purification for sins, and then go to Heaven and be there to speak for us.  The preacher mentions it as a matter of fact, but it still awes you.
After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

And he keeps saying things that rock the foundations of your world.  Things your parents would curse at you for saying:
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”?  Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?

The preacher uses bits of scripture to point to Jesus, and it makes a lot of sense to you, but to so many outside the walls of your little house church it just sounds like heresy and blasphemy.  The very Psalms themselves are used to prove the speaker’s point, and you shudder to think that the Lord the psalmist spoke of would have been this man who was executed on a cross.

Yes, step back in time and hear these words as they once were heard. Your world has been shaken, your past ripped from you and transformed into mere prelude; all your faith changed, energized, and challenged...and the sermon has only just begun.  By the end of the hour you will be in tears and your limbs shivering, because you are accepting the unacceptable; believing the unbelievable.  God became man, and died for your sins, and waits for you in heaven.  

These are not mere words on a page. These are not mere pages in a book.  This is the spoken message about the Word, the Logos, the very breath of God Almighty.  This is the first flush of hearing the message and believing it.  If you want to comprehend Advent, you have to understand that.  You have to live it, or re-live it.  You have to go back in time, put yourself in that frightening, exciting place, and believe.