God can send good news to earth through messengers like angels and prophets. An angel or prophet’s visitation can be surprising, even scary – had one lately? I recently received a good news visitation. Having finished Morning Prayer, I turned on my laptop. Email – “Are you panicked? Are you rushed? Is time running out?” I thought, “Could this be from the Mayans?” I kept reading: “Good news. (There it is) “Could this be from God, for me?” So I read on: “Good news. We have that perfect gift you are looking for.” Wow – perfect gifts – is there any better news? Every gift they showed me was perfect – the right one for someone, but I couldn’t think who. How do they know what’s perfect? “Never mind,” I thought. “It’s Walmart bringing me good tidings of great joy, and if the gift isn’t perfect, the receiver will know where to return it.”
How do you get your good news these days – or do you? It’s hard to find much. The author of Hebrews writes to a people becoming despondent, confused, and giving up on Jesus. Many longed for and returned to the old religion – where you offer a sacrifice. God forgives. Ca-ching. Deal done, at least temporarily. You know how it is with sin. You conquer one only to find another one’s popped up. So another sacrifice is needed. Push the sacrifice button again – get your forgiveness and be happy, temporarily.
Jesus has taken care of all that. Under the new system, sacrifices are no longer needed. Jesus, the Messiah, is now the Great High Priest – who offers that last sacrifice anyone needs – himself – his obedience to God’s will, even when his sacrifice meant his death. “Nice,” they thought. “But what if that’s not enough?” It’s hard to give up what brings comfort and assurance, something you wonder is new and improved. Now the forgiveness thing is out your hands – it’s not what you do, but rather what God and Jesus.
Our writer quotes Jesus, who quotes a Psalm, to say God hasn’t wanted sacrifices anyway – not these. God is looking for our obedience, living a holy life, and doing God’s will, as Jesus has. Rituals can’t change us, only hearts opened to God. Our sacrificial offering is to open ourselves to divine mercy, and living forgiven, we spread forgiveness to others. God’s often comes in ours.
So on this final Advent Sunday, what do sacrifice and forgiveness have to do with a cow shed, a poor couple, a baby, carols, angels, and shepherds rushing to Bethlehem to see what’s going on? Well-meaning people, even Christians, never see beyond the manger – so they can’t know God’s love affair with us. As riddled with repeated sin, failure, and good intentions gone awry, God so loves, he’s come to do something about us.
Here’s how. He comes to us, as us – a baby whose crying keeps his parents up at night, diaper changes, growing into a teenager, a prophet and healer, human and divine, and finally suffering and dying by human hands. No sacrifice could wipe away this sin against God. So God does. That doesn’t mean the sin and evil of this world no longer matter. They matter so much God comes to fix what’s so wrong. It begins at Bethlehem, and picks up steam with John and Jesus, fulfilled at a cross and then an empty tomb. Watch Jesus, follow him, and try your best to heal the suffering of this world, feed the hungry, calm chaos, welcome sinners and say, “here’s a better way.” It’s given for all – for those who know and trust God, those who don’t, those are yet to hear and know him. God stamps all with one word – FORGIVEN. Those who don’t think they need it miss it. Self-righteousness is a blinding disease. So just accept – YOU AND I ARE FORGIVEN BY GOD. Is that not the good news we await – the really perfect gift? Are we set free? You bet. Are we sin free? No, we are forgiven. God sees Jesus in us, and united with Jesus God only sees us forgiven and beloved. See yourself this way – anything else will be false, an illusion. Nothing we can do changes that – ever. That’s why the child of Bethlehem is born, among and within us so that God can raise us up to new life and the power to love God and one another.
So when you go to the manger to glimpse baby Jesus this year, look, but don’t stay. He won’t. Go with him and watch him love, heal, suffer, and die – and try it yourself, die to yourself that God’s new life can live in you. It begins when God sends good news becomes a lowly child’s birth. It ends when we all get home safely in union with God. My friends, we’ve been freed for God’s good news – forgiven, restored and empowered to do God’s will. It’s enough – for God in Christ says so.