Summary: What does the Book of Hebrews have to say about Christmas? It's more than you think.
Christmas According to the Book of Hebrews
Another Christmas is about to arrive. People are busy making their preparations. There is special singing. There are Christmas Eve services. There are even services on Christmas Day, although people are usually to involved with their family to come. So as I was looking through the Lectionary Christmas text, I saw an interesting selection – the first chapter of Hebrews. What can we learn about Christmas from this text? It is easy to relate to the Christmas story in Luke. We can imagine the awful trip Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem to register to pay taxes to Rome. We feel the anguish of their being told that there was no room in the inn. We can also smell the stable Jesus was born in. On the other side, we hear the song of the angels. (If you want to read a sermon on this Christmas story, see “No Room in the Inn” in this sermon archive.) Matthew gives additional information about Joseph and his dream to go and take Mary as his wife but just glosses over the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the days of Herod. (The sermon here is “No Shame”.) Matthew adds the story of the coming of the Magi. (“Were the Wise Men Really So Wise?”) It is easier to relate to stories and with humanity. But God also gave us the Gospel of John with its beautiful words about the incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Here the pre-existent Word of God, who is declared to be the Son and equal to the Father becomes a human being. Trying to grasp one who is fully God and fully human is hard, but it touches our emotions in that God was willing to do this. This is truly inspiring.
When we look at the Book of Hebrews, we see the Divine Son presented in all His majesty at the beginning of the Book. Even though it is written in a much more complex matter than the beginning of John, it is very similar in what it teaches about Jesus. The technical term for this is “High Christology.” Paul also has a High Christology in Colossians 1 and Philippians 2, for example. So there was agreement in the early church about the divinity of Jesus. The child born in a stable in Bethlehem and laid in a manger was no ordinary human being. But He was fully human as we are. So is there a statement about Jesus’ humanity in this passage(Hebrews 1)? Some might see verse six as talking about the birth of Jesus. Those who understand it this way translate the verse: “Again I say, whenever he brings the Firstborn into the world he says: ‘Let all the angels worship Him.” This translation would harmonize well with the angels singing the birth announcement to the shepherds in the field.
However, there are problems with this translation. “Whenever” begins this Greek sentence and not “again.” This seems to indicate that the event Hebrews is addressing is in the future. In other words, it is talking about the return of Jesus Christ, His second coming, when all the angels (and all creation) shall bow before Him in worship. The use of the Greek aorist subjunctive (He will bring) is usually translated with the English future. However, this is translated, this does not diminish the worship the angels gave at Jesus’ birth. But if we are looking for the Christmas message in Hebrews, we might want to look elsewhere.
The next place we should look in this passage for the humanity of Jesus is in the phrase “having made cleansing for our sin” in verse 3. Even here, the reference is indirect. It is a participial phase and not the main point of the sentence which is that He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High. As the Book of Hebrews will clearly teach is that it was necessary for the Son to participate in humanity in order to accomplish this. This was not just the appearance of humanity. Jesus was tempted to the greatest degree any human could be. Yet He did not yield to sin. The true humanity of Jesus is told us starting in Hebrews 2:10. So even though we might be pressed hard to find Christmas in the first chapter of Hebrews, the first chapter clearly sets the stage for it. It tells us exactly about the One who became flesh.
Both the prologue of John as well as Hebrews here make many important points about the person of Jesus, each in their own language and style. Both present the Son as eternally existing. John says “In the beginning was the Word.” Hebrews is less explicit, but does state that the Son was the agent of the creation of the ages (world) which says that He existed before all creation. John says everything was made by Him, every single thing, without exception. Both present the pre-existent Christ as being fully equal to the Father. Matthew 28 also explicitly confirms this as well as the full equality of the Holy Spirit as well. It is this tri-equal Son who became flesh.