An old story for today’s world…words for Evensong, 12/1/20 at Adel Parish Church
Joshua 3: 1 – 8, 14 – end; Hebrews 1: 1 – 12
During my post Christmas break we went to see the film ‘Little Women’. When I was a child I loved the series of books, so I was slightly anxious whether the film would live up to my memories.
For a while I was unsure, because the film started somewhere towards the end of the books, telling the main story in flashbacks; material from all four books was mixed together; characters weren’t as I’d pictured them.
But the acting is excellent, and eventually I relaxed into the story. By the end I’d realised this was an adaptation which told the same story – but in a new way, a way suitable for today.
Perhaps the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was wrestling with the same issue. There is much uncertainty about both the writer and the recipients of the ‘Letter to the Hebrews’. It is likely though that the Hebrews were Jewish Christians who had not themselves witnessed Jesus’ life and resurrection.
They would be familiar with the old testament texts. They would know that God has always spoken to his people. Directly to a few individuals – such as Moses and Joshua, as we heard in our first reading. Mostly through the prophets…in many and various ways…
…in anger at His people forgetting him.
…in the Manna called down by Moses, and the fire called down by Elijah…
…in words of hope to a people in exile.
God was known by his mighty acts…of rescue from Egypt…of destruction and punishment. For long periods God was known only by his absence, by the feeling of being abandoned. Then the words of hope would be vindicated – God’s people would feel able to sing, as in the psalm we just said together…”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
They would know these stories of God’s people and their encounters with God…and the picture of God, which this built up. Now though, they’ve been confronted with this utterly new and radical idea that God can not only speak through a human – as he did with the prophets – but can be a human.
In these last days, they’re told; God has spoken through a Son. A son who is not just a special human – but ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.’
This was an enormous thing for them to take in…and it still is today if we truly engage with it. The Almighty, powerful God of the Old Testament is reflected perfectly in this human…Jesus Christ is God in human form…the same God we encounter in the Old Testament.
But, they’re told, look properly and you’ll see that this is the same God speaking in this new way. This is the same story of power…as shown in Jesus’ miracles…of righteous anger…as shown by Jesus in the Temple…of faithfulness as shown by Jesus weeping at the death of John the Baptist, of Lazarus…of feeding…and healing.
Like the film I saw…this is the same story, but interpreted anew, for a new time.
The new revelation this brings is that God loves us enough to share our humanity. That God really is interested in us just as we are. That God is not only utterly beyond what we can imagine, but also closer than we know.
I will go back to Little Women and reread the books, but I will do so with new insights brought by the film of how women’s lives have changed, and how they haven’t.
I think this lovely passage from Hebrews tells us not to forget what we learn of God from the Old Testament…from the prophets. But to look at it with the new knowledge of God we gain from the person of Jesus.
Jesus, who is challenging and difficult as well as welcoming and human…but who shows us above all that we are loved.
David Jenkins…one time controversial Bishop of Durham…and thus a bit of a hero of mine…once said “God is, as he is in Jesus, so there is hope.”
A message that we need at the start of 2020 with so much uncertainty in the world.
Look at Jesus, said both the writer to the Hebrews and Bishop Jenkins, and you will begin to understand a little more about God. Look at Jesus, and you will see God’s story told anew in a way we can begin to grasp. Look at Jesus and you will find a reason to hope.
“God is, as he is in Jesus, so there is hope.”