The theme of this lectionary year – confession, penance, and forgiveness – comes through in the Advent readings. Here the writer of Hebrews (thought to be Paul) has Christ explaining that it was his body that was offered as penance for humanity’s sin. That other offering did not satisfy humanity’s (or the Jews) long term condition of sin. And that this ultimate offering was foretold.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
The writer of Hebrews goes on to explain,
“When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first [offerings] in order to establish the second [Christ’s sacrifice and body]. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verses 8-10)
I have set up on the desk where I write the glass nativity set that I found several years ago in a second hand store. I am rather late (for me) in getting it set up, and I suspect I will leave it up longer than usual (for me) as a consequence. The writings of Paul stand in contrast to the nativity scene where the focus is the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph watching over their newborn child, and the wise men coming to worship and bring gifts. And do not forget the sheep. In fact the sheep seem to be the only thing that ties this idyllic scene to Jesus later life – reminders of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and being lead as a “lamb to slaughter.”
I was reminded recently that in one nativity story Mary is told (or it is hinted to her) that her baby son Jesus would grow up and be put to death. And it was a sword to her heart. The Mary of my glass nativity set looks like she is in prayer as she is gazing on her child. Perhaps she is praying that she might be a good mother, or that she can endure what the years will bring. Or perhaps just grateful that she lived through the delivery!
Although the church year does not give much space and attention to it, I am glad that it was at least 30 years between Jesus’ birth and his death. Let Paul keep his theory and theology; I want to focus on Jesus’ birth. I want time to prepare myself for confession and penance, assured in the knowledge that the means of forgiveness has been set in motion.
May you, beloved reader, continue to prepare yourself during Advent. Selah!