Sunday, December 20, 2009

Vespers Homily for Year C 4th Sunday of Advent

Reading: Heb. 10:5-10

As the long passage at the beginning of our reading this evening, taken from Psalm 40, shows, the only sacrifice acceptable to God is to do God’s will. In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews four different sacrifices are mentioned: animal sacrifice, meal offering, burnt offering, and sin offering. Together these four kinds of sacrifice constitute the entire sacrificial system of ancient Israel. By appealing to the Psalm, the author seeks to demonstrate, using Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross as the model, that interior obedience must accompany external ritual if our rites are to signify, or, better yet, symbolize anything at all.

Our sacrifice is acceptable to God only because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whose only purpose in everything he said and did, including the offering of his body to God for us was in obedience to the Father. While Jesus Christ clearly shows us that obedience comes before praise, he also shows us how it is impossible to have one without the other. By sacrificing himself on the Cross, an act in which he was both victim and priest, Jesus shows us the unity between obedience and praise.

Sacrifice pleasing to God is voluntary sacrifice on the part of human beings, taking up our cross and laying our lives down in the service of others in imitation of Christ. Making our lives a daily sacrifice of service is what makes us God’s priestly people. By so doing we make clear the innate connection between interior obedience and external practice, between Eucharist and daily living, between Sunday and the rest of the week. If we do not undertake to live life in this way, our liturgical acts may well be empty, perhaps even unacceptable to God.

As we embark on the final few days before our celebration of the Lord’s Nativity, let us examine our consciences, confess our sins, and be reconciled to one another so that we can undertake our work, which is the work of God through Christ by the power of the Spirit, to reconcile the world to God. This is not only the way we prepare ourselves for Christ’s return in glory, but how we, like John the Baptizer, prepare the way for his return.

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