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Worship Theme: Jesus Shared Our Humanity
Sermon Theme: The Christ-child Is Our Brother
How many relationships have you had in your life? I’m not trying to pry into your past dating scene. I mean all of them. We began life with a relationship with our parents, at first quite dependent, and as we matured, more and more independent of them. If there were brothers and sisters, we had a relationship with them. As we grew older, we had relationships with classmates and teammates. If you had a typical college experience, you likely also had roommates and learned the pluses and minuses of those relationships. Then there are work relationships, which can be strictly professional or rather casual. Getting along with people at work certainly makes a job more enjoyable. Christians also develop relationships with people at their church. Faith-relationships with fellow members broaden a person’s spiritual support system.
I have seen people from abusive family systems actually grow, mature, and prosper. There are people who never had any close friends in school and yet do quite well for themselves. There are people who can’t stand their boss but still make a go of it at work. There are a few people who enjoy church membership without making any close friendships with fellow members. But no one will go to heaven without a close relationship with God.
That’s what makes the portion of Scripture we are going to dive into so spectacular, and the deuces are wild! Today is the second Sunday after Christmas, and we go to the second reading from Hebrews chapter two. The Christ-child was born and became our real, better, and extraordinary Brother for one main reason. I bet you can guess what it is-so we can have a close relationship with God: “the Christ-child is our brother.”
Our real brother
If you are shopping in a department store and want to get to the next floor, you have to find the escalator. If you want to get up to the balcony so that the organist can show you how the different pipes produces different sounds, you have to find the balcony steps. If you plan to attend the new series of Bible classes next Sunday, you have to find the door to the Grace Center. That’s how you gain access to a place.
But what about gaining access to a person? In order to build a relationship with another person, most people use common sense. There are also books and seminars that give suggestions about asking questions, active listening, being alert to body language, spending time together, finding common interests, and being open and honest.
If more than anything else in the whole wide world we need a close relationship with God, how is that going to happen? It’s not like we can just send him an Instagram picture or link up with him on Facebook or Linked-in. If you come into the sacristy back here, you won’t find an escalator to heaven. And think of this. What if I told you that you could open those doors over there, and inside you would be standing right in front of the holy God? I’d be more than a little nervous. Wouldn’t you? Because he’s holy, and I’m not.
Scripture records a variety of ways in which God made his presence known to people. Most of those instances have to do with glimpses of God’s awesome power, bigness, and holiness and remind us how unapproachable God is. Noah told his neighbors that there really is a God who is watching their careless and sinful behavior. They pooh-poohed Noah’s encouragement about getting a right relationship with God and doubled over in laughter when they saw him hauling timber to build a four hundred fifty-foot barge. But they weren’t laughing when water exploded from the heavens and burst out of the earth. One thousand five hundred seventeen people drowned when the Titanic went down. A horrible disaster! Imagine the millions, maybe even billions, who drowned in that global flood! How in all the world are we going to get a close relationship with a God who can do that?
Throughout history humans have built huge monuments and temples to try to get close to God. People have tried sacrifices, offerings, chants, and meditation in order to get in with God. But none of that works. There is only one way for humans to get a relationship with God, and that is for God to come to us. And he did. He came to be our brother, not a fake brother or pretend brother, not a ghost, but a real brother. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. I can’t underscore enough how important having a close relationship with God is. It’s more important than clothes or food or money, more important than relationships with spouse, children, friends, and co-workers. It is the only thing that will keep us out of hell. The miracle of Christmas, that a virgin could become pregnant and give birth to a child, is great, but an even greater miracle is that the Christ-child came to be our brother, our real brother, so that we could have a close relationship with God.
Our better brother
Imagine if our relationships with people depended on having a perfect brother. In other words, what if you planned to be married, but your fiancé called it off because your brother was rude? What if a job interview concluded with the words, “It looks like you are highly qualified and would be a great fit the job, but we found out that your brother is lazy so we aren’t going to hire you”? What if you had to have a brother as an active church member before you could join that church? If relationships depended on brothers, we’d be in trouble because brothers are not perfect, and some people don’t have any.
Getting a close relationship with God does depend on a brother, but no earthly brother will do. We need a better brother. That’s because God has perfect standards that have to be met before we can get close to him. He taught that truth to the Israelites with a visual aid. He said, “There is an inner room in the temple at Jerusalem that is going to symbolize my presence. But you can’t go in that room and get close to me. Only the high priest can do that and only once a year, and even he will have to bring the blood of a sacrifice because he’s not perfect either.”
COVID-19 changed the way we think about testing. For one thing, it put that word on our mind and on our lips. “Should I get tested?” “Have you been tested?” “Do I need an appointment to get tested?” “Where did you get tested?” The Israelites tested positive for sin every day, and God didn’t have to swab up their noses half way to their brain to find out the results. They couldn’t match up to God’s standards. Neither can we. And it won’t help to suggest to God, “Would it be OK if my brother or sister or father or mother could get tested for me?” For one thing, that would be dishonest and for another, their test result would be the same as ours, positive for sin.
But check this out: For this reason he had to be made like [his brothers and sisters], fully human in every way – except without sin – in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God. Jesus was tested daily, and the results were negative, no sin, ever. This is the best Christmas gift of all time. God counts his test results as ours, and that’s not cheating because God himself is the one who says it’s OK. And there’s an added bonus. Our brother is better than any other because he understands us. There will be days when we feel like we are going to get kicked out of God’s family because we keep testing positive for sin. But our brother keeps giving us his test results. Because he himself suffered when he was tested, he is able to help those who are being tested. The Christ-child is our brother, a better brother than any other, because he is perfect and has given us his perfect test results and added his blood as a vaccine.
Our extraordinary brother
Who here would want a relationship with the devil? I’m glad no one raised a hand. Who here has had ties to the devil? We all should have raised our hands because when we were born, we were caught in the devil’s clutches. Satan just loves to tie us up in sin, haul us into God’s courtroom, and shout all kinds of accusations. “They have broken your commands, God. Condemn them!” Who will bail us out? Who will release us? God set the bail price too high. He said, “You sinners have to pay for all eternity with your blood.” No human could help us, not father or mother or sister or brother.
But our brother Jesus did. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God … should make the pioneer of ... salvation [reach the goal] through what he suffered ... so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death ... for this reason he had to be made like his brothers ... that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. After all, it wasn’t the angels he came to help. They were messengers of God and played a big role in the Christmas story, but they didn’t need rescue. We did. To get us in with God, someone had to die. The message of Christmas is that the story does not end in feedbox in Bethlehem, but continues to a hill six miles north and thirty-three years later. The Christ-child is our brother, our extraordinary brother, who paid for sin with his death so that our death isn’t a payment for sin but a step into heaven.
Kids who grow up in a home with a healthy relationship with their parents generally have a better chance of learning how to handle their emotions that kids who do not. Married couples whose relationship is supported by a shared oneness in faith have an additional tool called prayer to deal with the inevitable bumps on the road of marriage compared to couples who do not. New church members who develop friendships with fellow members have a better chance of remaining active in their church life than those who do not. But what happens if those relationships go away? A young woman who had been a Jehovah’s Witness studied Scripture with us and joined our church. As she expected, her family disowned her. But ask her how she copes without family support, and she will tell you, “I have a real, better, and extraordinary brother, Jesus Christ.” What if you lost the relationships you enjoy? How would you cope? I pray that you would say what the young woman said, “I have a real, better, and extraordinary brother. He is Christ the Lord. He is Christ, my Lord!” Amen.
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