Year C, 4 Advent
St. James' Episcopal Church
The Rev. Timothy J. Howe
December 18, 1994
Scripture: Hebrews 10:5-10
Title: I have come to do Thy Will, O God
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. This can mean only one thing. Christmas is one week away. Tomorrow, there will be long lines at the Post Office as people like me try to get all those packages there in time. The TV will blare ads for all the last minute shoppers to hurry in and buy, buy, buy, before it's too late. And I imagine you can watch the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" about three million times on every cable channel in the next seven days.
Yes, the spin cycle of life is in full swing this week, as we try to cram one more ounce of holiday cheer into our lives. Is it any wonder that we feel exhausted and burnt out by Christmas? Is it any wonder we feel depressed by the time Christmas gets here?
Then there are all the recent tragedies in the world to dampen our spirits. It seems that every small plane in the world keeps falling out of the skies. People are shooting people as merrily as ever over in Bosnia. Thousands of people who survived the slaughter of Rwanda now face a time of starvation in refugee camps. Yes, the world is not a happy place in 1994.
Is it any wonder many of us feel jaded to the whole story of Christmas? We've heard it a million times: the angels, the shepherds, the sheep, the stable, the "No room at the Holiday Inn" story, Mary the young virgin mother, Joseph the faithful husband, the little town of Bethlehem, the Silent Night, and those angels again harking all over the place. But, we are so burned out trying to get our holiday cheer and we are so exhausted by the tragedy that has been 1994, that we miss out on the meaning of the story.
Sometimes we need a fresh perspective to make us appreciate anew the depth and power of the Christmas story. But where can we find such a fresh perspective today? Haven't we heard it all, seen it all, done it all? We've done the tree, the lights, the ornaments, the gifts, the cards, the food, the cookies, the parties, the visits, and by golly, we are plum tuckered out. What else do we possibly need to do to celebrate Christmas?
What we need to do is listen. We need to listen in on a conversation between the two principal actors in the Christmas Story. No, not Mary and Joseph. It is a conversation between God the Father and His Beloved Son. It is a conversation whispered down through the corridors of time. You hear this conversation whispered in the faith of Israel. We are allowed the privilege of hearing the conversation at Christmas.
This conversation lies behind the entire Christmas story. It is this conversation which opens for us the true meaning of Christmas.
God the Father and God the Son are discussing this weary old world. They discuss what needs to be done to restore joy to this world. They discuss how to remove the curse of sin and death from the lives of this world's inhabitants. They both know full well what caused the downfall of this world. They both know full well what is needed to raise it back up to its rightful place in the Universe.
So, they conclude their conversation and we witness its outcome. Jesus comes into the world, the Son of God, begotten from all eternity, born as the baby of Bethlehem.
Throughout His life, if you listen closely, you can hear Him having this conversation with the Heavenly Father: "I have come, O Father, not to offer you sacrifices and burnt offerings for sin, but to do your will." All through the earthly life of Jesus, He has this conversation with God the Father.
What is this will that Jesus came to do? What is the thing Jesus accomplished through His life here on earth? He came to fulfill the will of the Father in Heaven by making the final, all encompassing sacrifice for the sins of the whole world and by so doing breaking the power of Satan and sin.
The result? The inhabitants of this world are set free from the fear of death and they are free to participate fully in the God given life of the Universe.
Adam and Eve had had this opportunity. They could have done God's will and experienced the marvelous delights of life with God. But they chose disobedience and doomed their offspring to life without God.
But, Christmas reminds us that God is not satisfied with that arrangement. God delights to have all things in a right relationship with Himself. Christmas is God's answer to the problem of sin in the world. Christmas reminds us that God Himself came into this world to make all things right.
The sacrifices and the entire sacrificial system mentioned here in Hebrews refers to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Established by God, it served several purposes. One of the most important was to point to the coming of the One who would offer The Sacrifice for the sins of the world. When you went to the Temple in old Jerusalem, it was a loud place. Animals were everywhere. They were on sale for people to buy and use in their sacrifices at the Temple. God had given the Israelites a comprehensive system to atone for their sins. The only problem was, people kept on sinning under the old system. It could not impart holiness to those living under it. Only God Himself can make holy again that which has been profaned. And we sinners have been mighty profane. Animals sacrificed for sin lacked the power to change the lives of anybody.
So what was it God wanted Jesus to do? What was the will of God Jesus came to fulfill? God wanted Jesus to offer the One sacrifice that would for all time finish the sin question. God wanted Jesus to offer for all time the sacrifice of a human life on behalf of the sins of all humanity. God's will was for Jesus to save us from ourselves. This is why John the Baptist cried out "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" Jesus gave Himself in obedience to the Father's will to set us free from the guilt and power of sin.
This is the meaning of Christmas. We see the opening act in God's greatest and best work, namely restoring that which was lost to Himself. We see in the baby Jesus God's love for a lost world. We see in Jesus God's love for each and every one of us.
Few of us seem to fully appreciate the magnificent scope of what God was doing. We realize that love has something to do with it. We understand vaguely that Jesus came at Christmas to show us love. But we have little understanding of the depth of that love.
For the Son of God, the Creator of all things, including you and me, comes to earth as an infant, born in the ordinary way, placed in a manger of straw. At just the right time in history old St. Paul tells us, God gives us the gift of Himself.
To set us free.
I don't know how many of you feel free this morning. I would venture a guess that a couple of us might feel free of all the pressures and weights of the world. I would also hazard a guess that most of us are feeling a little frazzled right about now. And I know some of us are feeling weighed down by our own sins and failings today, especially as we approach Christmas day.
Because this is true, let us remember the true meaning of Christmas. God, in His love for us, sent Jesus His Son to die for us. That baby lying in the manger is going to set us free from our sin. He is going to set us free from death. He is going to usher in the Kingdom of God in our midst and make it possible for you and me to be forgiven and made holy. He takes us as we are this Christmas and offers to wash us clean again. He takes us as we are and gives us the right to stand before God, with our heads held high, to meet with the maker of our souls. He comes to restore all things.
God's gift to you at Christmas is His forgiveness and His love. We give gifts to everybody else in the world at Christmas. this Christmas, let us give to God our sins and failures that He might wash them away and give us His peace and joy. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the offering for our sins. God shows us His love at Christmas by sending His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him.
That life is yours for the asking. Take it today and have a truly Merry Christmas.