December 19, 2021: Fourth Sunday of Advent - Associate Pastor’s Corner
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.’“ Hebrews 10:5
Animal sacrifices seem so old fashioned, don’t they? They seem primitive, superstitious, unenlightened, barbaric. In this passage from Hebrews, it seems that Christ also confirms this outlook, speaking to the Father, he says “sacrifice and offering you did not desire.” So that’s that, right? Surely any vestigial verbiage concerning oblations or offerings in the scriptures or the liturgy is merely a holdover from those barbaric times, and certainly not something that we need to worry about.
On the contrary! As the Letter to the Hebrews goes on to say, the Jewish sacrifices were properly offered according to the command and law of God, and were only taken away to establish a second, permanent sacrifice, the “offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). So, if we do not understand the reason God commanded the Jewish people to offer animal sacrifice for thousands of years in preparation for the one Sacrifice of Christ, how can we possibly understand the significance of the Body prepared for Christ, for His Sacrifice on the Cross?
As a quick summary, animal sacrifice:
-Recognizes God’s sovereignty over creation,
-Thanks God for his blessings by “giving back” some of His gifts,
-Expresses sorrow for sin, and acknowledges that death is the just punishment for sin.
Christ’s once and for all sacrifice of himself on the Cross fulfills all these and more. Whereas animal sacrifice cannot remove sin, Christ’s sacrifice does take away our sin. This is why it does not need to be repeated. At every Eucharist, we are present at the same one sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, but in an unbloody manner (for which I am very grateful!). At the same time, there is a very important visceral aspect that we can easily forget, much as our crucifixes tend to hide the blood, or our manger Nativity scenes hide the squalor of a stable. I imagine that there was something much more akin to a feeling of journey: feeding and raising a lamb, bringing it to the Temple, giving it to the priest, watching as it was slaughtered, spilling its blood for your sake.
As we approach Christmas, the birth of Jesus, when the body prepared for him, prepared for his sacrifice is shown to the world, may we journey too: acknowledging in Christ our Creator, thanking him for his many blessings, weeping for our sins that caused his death, but then rejoicing with the angels and shepherds at the glory of God revealed in the little babe of Bethlehem.
-Fr. Christopher Wetzel