The whole idea seems pretty silly to us nowadays. How on earth could killing some poor unfortunate animal or burning a sheaf of grain convince God (the creator of animals and grain) to have mercy on us? Yet in many ancient cultures, such an act was seen as a must. It was specified in Jewish law. The thought was that it was an opportunity to show to their god that they thought more highly of their god than their own wealth. It was a big deal for the poor, who had nothing to sacrifice. For the rich or for the livestock holder, it was often just like chump change.
What’s wrong with animal sacrifice? (Aside from being cruel, messy, and costly?) One thing, above all else. They forgot to ask God, “what do You want of us?” When God spoke, through Samuel (1 Sam 15:22-23), Amos (5:21-24), Isaiah (1:10-17), Hosea (6:6), and Jeremiah (7:21-26), the theme was repeated time and time again, era after era. The Lord didn’t want a barbequed steak or mutton chops for divine dinner. God wanted us to live the way God showed us to. God wanted us to live right, to do justice, to worship no other gods. Most of all, God wanted our love. It’s a lot harder to love than to toast wheat. We can’t do God’s will and cheat the poor; we can’t love our neighbor and lust after our neighbor’s spouse; we can’t follow God and live as slave to wealth, fame, or power. We can’t stand boldly for God’s Kingdom and quiver in fear. Guess which one we choose.
Instead, God said, “No more of your bull! I’m going to send my Son to you.” (Hence, Christmas.) The Son came to do God’s will. Then we showed what we really think of God’s will; we killed Him. Then He showed what He really thinks of us: He came back, with forgiveness in His hands, sending God’s Spirit to work in us and among us.
Father, thank you for sending your Son to do what sacrifices could not do. Write your ways on our minds, that we may do your will. Amen.
A challenge: Okay – so lately none of us have wasted a perfectly good lamb or bull to give the Almighty something he doesn’t want. Now: imagine that you did, but, in the true spirit of modern Christmas, God came back to you with receipt in hand, returned the livestock (alive, of course), and asked to exchange it. What would you give him instead?