What are you sacrificing for Christmas?
Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.'”
First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in.”
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, :Behold, I come to do your will.”
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this “will,” we have been consecrated
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
When Christ came into the world as the baby born in Bethlehem there were shepherds watching over their flocks by night just outside of Bethlehem. Those shepherds raised sheep and lambs, some of which were no doubt used for sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Sacrifices that were commanded by God. Sacrifices that were offered to God as an atonement for sins. But those sacrifices themselves didn’t forgive the sins of God’s people. As a Lenten hymn tells us, “Not all the blood of beasts On Israel’s altars slain Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.” Those sacrifices themselves didn’t wash away the sins of God’s people, and yet God’s people went home with the assurance that their sins were forgiven, not because of the sacrifices themselves, but because of the One to whom those sacrifices pointed. They pointed to Jesus, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” As that Lenten hymn goes on to tell us, “But Christ, the heavenly Lamb, takes all our sins away, a sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.” Sacrifice what you want for Lent, or even for Christmas, but keep in mind that your sacrifices can never make you right with God. Your sacrifices can never give you better standing with God. How often aren’t we tempted to think that they can? When it comes to how much we go to church? How much we put in the offering plate? How much we volunteer our time and talents? God’s people in the Old Testament often felt the same way. It often led them to go through the motions, worshipping God with their lips, while their hearts were far from him. They missed the point, and it even came to the point where God told them, “stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. I cannot bear your evil assemblies. They have become a burden to me; I am wearing of bearing them…I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” Yet even in his anger, we see his love, telling his people, “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” It doesn’t matter how much you give of your time, talents, or treasures. It doesn’t matter how much you go to church or Bible class or even how much you volunteer. These are all good things, but if these things aren’t motivated by God’s love for you, you’ve missed the point. John makes the point when he writes, “we love because he first loved us.” Looking back on our lives, we can probably think of the many good things we’ve done for the wrong reasons. Serving because it was expected of us. Helping because no one else stepped up to do so. Volunteering because no one else seemed to care. Showing up because we were afraid of what people might think if we didn’t. We may have put a lot of time and effort into these things, but if these things weren’t motivated by God’s love for us, Paul tells us, “I am nothing and I gain nothing.” Isaiah tells us, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” No matter what we do, our sacrifices cannot save us, but thankfully Christ’s sacrifice alone saves us. He took the filthy rags of our righteous and unrighteous deeds and he carried them to the cross where he washed them and us, making us clean through his holy precious blood. The innocent one became the guilty one. The righteous one became the unrighteous one. Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted by God who, “made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Though his perfect life, his innocent death, and his glorious resurrection, our unrighteous garments have been removed and we’ve been clothed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness. Because of Jesus, we are at peace with God. Peace with God doesn’t begin with what you do for God, rather it begins with what God has done for you. On the night of His birth, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Glory to God in the highest that he sent his Son to be our Savior. The Savior who said, “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.” Jesus came to do God’s will to forgive the many times we haven’t. As we learn in Catechism class, God’s will involve His Word being shared with all people. God’s will involve all people being saved. God’s will involves living a holy life. Loving God and our neighbor perfectly. How many times have we failed to do this? How many times have we spoken words that hurt others? How many times have we made sacrifices in life to the point where it hurt? If we’re honest with ourselves, we see how our sins are many and our sacrifices are few. For the times we went about life with the attitude of, “my will be done,” we can be thankful that Jesus always went about life with the attitude of “thy will be done.” Love God and His Word. “Thy will be done,” perfectly by Jesus. Even as a teenager, he never grumbled and complained when mom or dad said it was time to go to church. Love and serve your neighbor. “Thy will be done,” perfectly by Jesus. He never looked the other way or made excuses when the opportunities to help and serve were placed before him. He wasn’t afraid to tell people to repent and believe the good news of God’s forgiveness. In his active obedience, he kept the law perfectly for us. In his passive obedience, he willingly died for our sins against it. Out of love for us, he allowed himself to be led away in chains like a criminal. Out of love for us, he allowed soldiers to drive nails through his hands and feet. Out of love for us, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Whereas we are all like sheep that have gone astray, the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. As the perfect Lamb of God, he offered his life on the cross to take away your sins and mine and the sins of the world. He perfectly fulfilled the will of God, and “by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” No matter how much or how many, the end result of our sacrifices would have brought God’s wrath and punishment in hell. But the end result of Christ’s sacrifice brings us grace and every blessing here on earth and for all eternity in heaven. Through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, we have been made holy through the blood of Christ. Through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, our sacrifices take on a whole new meaning. They’re not done to earn heaven, but rather to thank God for His gift of heaven. Jesus is the reason why we make sacrifices to give God the very best in our time, talents, and treasures. To say thank you to God for the treasure of salvation that is ours in Jesus! Working through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith and the realization that our greatest treasure in life is Jesus. The work we do together as individual Christians, as members of a Christian congregation. The sacrifices we make in our lives, our schedules, our home, our church, our school, our preschool, our Sunday School, and our youth group programs are done to connect people to Jesus and keep them connected for time and eternity. What are you sacrificing for Christmas? May any of the sacrifices we make be done out of thanks and praise to Jesus. Sacrifices that come from cheerful hearts praising God for all the wonderful things he has done. This Christmas will find people making sacrifices to give their loved ones a Merry Christmas. Companies competing for your time, attention, and money. Something we’re far too often too eager to give. But the sacrifices we make for the things of this world will last us for just that, if that. But the sacrifices we make for God’s Word and God’s Work will last for time and eternity. The sacrifices we make to share the sacrifice of Jesus with others will result in people enjoying the glories of heaven one day. With that kind of attitude and mindset, no matter what happens this Christmas, you will have a truly Merry Christmas indeed!