+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
From the opening lines of Scripture to its final verses, if we learn only one thing about God, it’s this: God speaks. In the beginning, God speaks a powerful word over nothingness, and by that word the whole creation comes into being. The other people who lived around the Israelites didn’t talk about their gods like that. When they talked about creation, they imagined their gods were engaged in a cosmic struggle with the forces of darkness and chaos, often in hand-to-hand combat, and the gods worth worshiping were the ones who prevailed and brought creation into being. But the people of Israel knew differently. They had experienced God as a God of speech, one who addresses particular people in particular times and places, one who by the act of speaking made the world, spurred people to action, brought a nation into being, and moved to save and deliver that nation. Scripture testifies to this truth over and over again. God speaks, and Abram leaves his house and family to go to an unknown land in pursuit of a promise that wouldn’t be fulfilled for decades. God speaks, and Isaac is born to a mother and father who are so old, the Bible describes them as being as good as dead. God speaks, and Joseph winds up as a slave in Egypt, rises to power, and saves thousands. God speaks, and the descendants of Jacob are freed from slavery and oppression and promised a land to call their own. God speaks and kings are raised up and brought low. God speaks and the world is changed – day after day, year after year, again and again.
God has indeed spoken “in many and various ways” – or, put another way, “in many fragments and fashions.”* Indeed, the Bible records mere snippets of the conversation that has been going on between God and humanity since the beginning. Our ancestors in the faith, including the prophets who served as God’s mouthpieces, bore witness to the on-going dialogue that has shaped God’s people, changed our understanding of who God is and what God is up to in the world, and kept us connected to the one who first said, “Let there be light!”
That conversation went on for centuries, reaching a crescendo at those key moments that defined the history and destiny of God’s people, until, one day, everything changed. Suddenly, God was no longer content simply to speak. As powerful as God’s voice had been, the time had come for something different, and that something different was the arrival of Jesus. In him, the Son of God, the Eternal Word, the one who had brought all things into being, visited our world. In him, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being took on flesh and dwelt among us, and our world has never been the same. No longer would we look to the heavens in search of signs of a divine being beyond our comprehension. No longer would we struggle to hear the voice that thundered over the waters at creation. God spoke once more, this time into the life of a young woman named Mary, and that Word became truly human, lived in our midst, died for our sake, and rose for our salvation.
This is the deep and profound truth that is proclaimed through this morning’s reading – and, in fact, throughout the piece of writing that the Church has known for centuries as “the Letter to the Hebrews”. God has spoken in many different and incredible and world-changing ways since creation began, but none of it can rival the importance of how God spoke through the Son, the one whose name is Jesus. The surpassing greatness of that revelation will be unpacked throughout the rest of this letter and during our exploration of it over the next four weeks.
For now, this introduction gives us the opportunity to get our feet under us, and to reflect on all the ways that God has spoken to us through the prophets whose words reverberate through the ages, through the ancestors who helped to reveal the character of God by the way they bore witness to that character in word and deed, through the one whose name we bear and whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension define our lives. It gives us the opportunity to look around our church and our world and to realize that God is not finished speaking yet, that God continues to send prophets and teachers to orient us to God’s will for our lives, that the God who came to dwell among us in Jesus continues to be present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. It gives us the occasion to be reminded that the many fragments and fashions that have shaped the contours of the conversation between God and us are still shaping it today, though not as much as the reality of Christ’s living, dying, rising, and ascending for our sake and for the sake of the world.
That reality can’t be forgotten, because if we don’t remember the surpassing greatness of Jesus when we acknowledge or recognize that God is still speaking, we open ourselves to the danger of putting ungodly words in God’s mouth. Our knowledge of the Son helps us to filter the “God-talk” that comes our way and to test its authenticity. Does the way that we talk about God, or the way that we perceive God’s voice, align with the way that voice spoke through the life of Jesus Christ? Or is there a disconnect between what people claim to hear from God and what happened in the world when God lived as one of us? That’s a question worth asking of every individual, every congregation, every community of faith, every denomination, every expression of Christ’s body in the world, and to the extent that we are able to align ourselves with the way God spoke and acted in Christ – and, by the same token, to eliminate those areas where things are disconnected or disjointed – we are better able to hear and communicate and live into God’s will for us and our world.
We live each day, brothers and sisters, as those who bear the most excellent name of Christ. Let us give thanks for the gift of knowing Jesus, the one who radiates the glory of God and reveals the character of God in flesh and blood. Let us give thanks for the Holy Spirit who continues to make Jesus present to us today and every day. Finally, let us give thanks for the privilege of being part of a people to whom God is still speaking – in different fragments and fashions, to be sure, but still speaking all the same. May we hear God’s voice and seek to be Christ’s mouthpieces for this beautiful and broken world. Amen.