Advent 4 • Hebrews 10:5–10 • December 23, 2012
By William Wrede
Rapid fire, these days come together: Advent 4, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Three days standing in a row, perfectly aligned, can be more than a little intimidating. How can one prepare so much, remember so much, and do so much to honor and celebrate these days? The preacher preparing for each of these days may want to pray the Collect for the day, “…that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy.” Perhaps tempted to substitute “sermons” or “services” for “sins,” the preacher will certainly be encouraged and refreshed by this second reading for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.
This pericope enables the reader to step back in time to the first century and ponder its impact on the people for which it was written. Familiar with the Jewish sacrificial system, the Jewish reader would certainly be struggling with this new information. Change comes in the lives of people, if it comes at all, very slowly and with great resistance. This reading impacts the reader because change has taken place and it is indeed sudden and new! The new covenant established in Jesus does away with the old, inadequate system. There is no time for transition. There is no time for slow implementation. No committee has been called to build consensus. The words from the cross, “It is finished!” make it “once for all.” No mixing of the old with the new. The old cannot coexist with the new.
Here, in the very last moments of Advent and on the threshold of Christmas, what might the people need to hear? Not one person in church will have experienced sacrificing animals in an attempt to satisfy God. A shared experience can more easily be found in the fact that we all have sins and other burdens weighing us down. As you read the text, remember the lives of the people. Look deeply into their eyes. Relect on the year drawing to a close and the events in the lives of those who will hear this text. From those most regular in church attendance, to the one visiting for the first time, all long to hear words of mercy and love.
Burdened, wearied by self-imposed expectations and responsibilities, all long to hear words of hope, of promises kept, of renewal, of forgiveness. This reading raises one hand to hold up the Jewish sacrificial system for all to see. The second hand, with a mighty blow, stamps the entire sacrificial system “undesirable” and “unacceptable.” Hands, still raised, show that an intensely profound change has occurred. The old, inadequate sacrifice has been replaced by a second, perfect sacrifice. The blood no longer belongs to a lamb but now belongs to the Lamb. It is because of that blood, that sacrifice, that we are made holy…once and for all.
Through faith, those wearied and burdened again receive hope. The sacrifice is perfect, complete, and for each one of us. Gerald P. Coleman captures how the believer, released from the burden and lifted in grace and mercy, can sing, “The Lamb, the Lamb, One perfect final offering. The Lamb, the Lamb, Let earth join heav’n His praise to sing. Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes me His own! The Lamb is reigning on His throne” (LSB 547). Advent 4 brings the preacher and the people to the very threshold of the nativity.