C Cycle – 4th Sunday of Advent 21
How many times have we heard the passage “sacrifice and offerings you did not desire?” Yet after God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he makes a covenant with them. As part of the covenant, God gave Moses the law so they might have life. Sin was defined and knowing man’s heart was inclined to sin, the law demanded a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. In the Books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and even in the Book of numbers you will find mandated acts of the sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. The Israelites had to offer lambs and goats which were to be slaughtered for the atonement of sin.
The blood of the animal being killed for their sin, had to be a powerful image for them as they strived to please God. If you think about it for a minute, it does not take us long to see how much following a prescribed action for wrongs committed builds within us a willingness to admit we are weak, prone to sin and provides a means of admitting that to God we want to do better.
This is the exact why we teach our children right from wrong and how right is rewarded and wrong is punished. We know punishing them creates a desire to avoid the punishment. It also instills within them a desire to avoid the feeling of falling short. The blood sacrifice for the Israelites provided a means to restore their relationship with God. But you can see how the sacrifice of lambs, bulls and goats prepared them to believe blood must be shed for the forgiveness of sins. In Leviticus 16:21 you will see God establishing an annual day of atonement, during which one goat will have placed on it all the sins and all the wrongdoings of all the Israelites and as it is led into the desert it carries away all their sins. That is the ultimate picture of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. One offering for the atonement of all the sins of all the people.
We profess and believe Jesus Christ took upon himself all our sins and became the only sacrifice that can atone for our sins but also the ability to change us. Until Jesus came, the law kept us in check. After Jesus death and resurrection God poured his Spirit upon all mankind and provided us a means to have the law written on our hearts. Christ died so we could experience forgiveness, the Fathers love and impels us to live by an internal conversion instead of by outward sacrifices. The law kept us in check until the law of the Spirit came and provides us a belief and trust in God’s promises to us.
Why else would God tell us through the prophet “I desire love not sacrifice and knowledge of God rather than offerings” (Hos. 6:6). Or the prophet telling us ‘…to listen to his voice is better then burnt offerings or sacrifices” (1 Sam. 15:22). Long before Christ cane to earth, God was preparing his people to move beyond the lessons of punishment by responding to his voice and preparing our hearts to embrace Christ. The Season of Advent has been preparing us to receive not only the Christ in the manger but the Christ on the Cross and the Christ who will come again. It is inviting us to embrace the forgiveness offered us by his death and resurrection of Christ by acknowledging our desire to feel that embrace now and at the hour of our death.
We need to embrace the gift of forgiveness as Saul of Tarsus did by allowing the Spirit to change us into disciples in the same way Saul became Paul. We need to embrace the forgiveness Christ offered Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as he asks Peter if he loves him. Peter did love Christ, but his love was not strong enough until that moment he experienced forgiveness. We need to embrace forgiveness as the prodigal did when the Father embraced him, or the woman caught in adulty as Christ would not condemn her.
Obedience to the law has prepared us for the moment when we have our own encounter with Christ, and we are faced with a decision to do his will and follow him. Paul said there must come a time when we move from a faith dependent on our ability to stay in God’s grace to a faith that is driven by the Spirit. The issue is what must change within us for us to live by the promptings of the Spirit rather than our own formula for holiness. The answer is amazingly simple; too simple to be true but true none the less. We do what Mary did and surrender to God’s will. We do what every disciple did and that is to wait until we have the love of God poured upon us by the Holy Spirit. .
Then we still our hearts and listen to God speaking to us, revealing to us the role we must play in bringing the message of forgiveness to the world.