Lectionary reading for 12/16/2021:Psalm 80:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:10-18
Selected passage for reflection: Hebrews 10:10-18
Hebrews 10:10-18 NIV
10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”[a]
17 Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”[b]
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
American long-distance runner and Olympian, Steve Prefontaine once said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Galatians 2:21 (NIV) reads, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
While many Christians lament that American Christmas has become too commercialized and too focused on consumerism, just like a gift appearing under the tree on Christmas morning, Advent awaits a gift.
It used to be (verse 11) that Jews would visit the temple with animal offerings or gifts to be sacrificed for their sins. The gifts were supposed to be domestic animals, animals belonging to the giver. But the gift was sacrificial; the giver would do without that animal for food, offering the animal in substitution for one’s self. The giver would be absolved of sin and through the sacrifice, brought closer to God.
During the first Advent, whether they had any idea or not, the people of Israel awaited a gift, a once-and-for-all gift who would take away the need for any more sacrificial animal offerings.
With the advent, the coming of Christ, we have already received the greatest gift and “sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary,” (verse 18). But, we perhaps have an even greater responsibility with the advent of this new gift. In the in-between-time of Christ’s first coming and Christ’s second coming, we have a great purpose in response to the gift of grace.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the Psalmist declares (139:14). God created you to carve out a you-shaped-sized-niche for yourself in this world. God blesses each of us with great gifts and God is most visible when we use our gifts for God’s glory. Some of us run long distances, some of us cook spectacular meals, some of us hold babies, others sing, some crunch numbers; God’s gifts are abundant and amazing. To sacrifice/ to ignore/ to suppress the gifts that God has given you is to nullify the Divine within you.
And when Christ came into the world, we were and are and continue to be the recipients of a literal life-changing gift. With Jesus came God’s grace to us. We ruin the gift when we withhold forgiveness, love, and extend Christ’s grace to those around us. We are not called to be judges but messengers – pointing to Christ all around us and looking for opportunities to bless others. God promises in the final verse to remember our sins and lawless acts no more. This Advent, offer yourself this gift and then extend it to those who cross your path. Embrace and share the unique gifts God has given you and share the gifts of Jesus – forgiveness, love, and grace – with those around you.
Open up your left hand and think of one gift that God has blessed you with for as many fingers you have on that hand. Open up your right hand and think of one person you can share God’s forgiveness, love, and grace with for as many fingers as you have in the days to come before Christmas.
Gracious God, we give thanks that we can never out-give you. Help us to rejoice in the pieces of Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer within us. Through those gifts, may we share your forgiveness, love, and grace with those we encounter this Advent season. Come Lord Jesus, the greatest gift of all. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Julie Raffety is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, NJ and an Associate Mathematics Teacher at Sage Alliance High School, working with kids with social and emotional diagnoses. Julie writes a monthly blog for the Presbyterian Outlook and enjoys running, hiking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and eating popcorn. She is the proud aunt to three nieces and one nephew. Reading and praying through Advent devotionals is one of her most favorite pieces of the Advent/Christmas season.