I don’t know what you would think about this, but this guy said, “I think 75 percent of people just go through the motions when it comes to celebrating Christmas… Many of the people I’m speaking of,” he went on to say, “are just like me in income, lifestyle, and political values, but they are just empty when it comes to Christmas.” That depressing statement by itself really doesn’t prove anything or really even mean anything, because it was just part of an online blog started by some other guy who wanted to know how many people other people out there thought go through the motions at Christmas. What became evident very quickly was that the reason that the people who responded in a similar way responded in a similar way was because they themselves were empty when it came to Christmas. They didn’t have a clue, even if they thought they did. It was really sad reading that stuff. You really only can be going through the motions at Christmas if you don’t know Christmas.
You and I know Christmas. That’s why we’re here preparing for it. But is there something to what this sad blogger said that hits home with you a little bit – or maybe a lot? Do you maybe feel that way right now – that you have been just going through the motions — decorating the house, buying the presents, going to church –because it is the thing to do to “do Christmas” rather than the thing you want to do because of what Christmas means? I pray that that is not the case for any of us, but I suspect that either because of us getting tired and worn out and downright stressed or because of us finding ourselves becoming more mean and ornery and fed up with all the hype that it is true to some degree for all of us – and so for all of us I pray that these words from the letter to the Hebrews will be a little bit of a Christmas pick-me-up from God on this last day of worship before our celebration of Christmas.
In these words God was speaking to Hebrews – Jewish Christians – believers in the Lord Jesus who were being tempted by Jewish friends and relatives who did not believe in Christmas. These Jewish friends and relatives did not believe in Christmas because they did not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Christ, and they were asking these Jewish Christians to say no to Christmas and to say yes to a return to their former faith and way of life. But that way of life, the Lord told them, was an empty way of life. It was a life of going through the motions. He said in the opening verse, “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.’” We’ll talk more about that expression “a body you prepared for me” in a few moments, but let’s think first about Jesus saying that he knew his heavenly Father was not pleased with all those sacrifices and offerings which the people of Israel had brought to the Lord through all the past centuries.
I thought that God had commanded that the people of Israel make all those sacrifices of lambs and goats and oxen. And it is true that he had. But the vast majority of people — 75 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent, who knows – but the vast majority of people who brought those sacrifices, God tells us, didn’t know Christmas. They didn’t believe that the sacrifices they were bringing were meant to point them ahead to the birth of the Savior and the forgiveness of sins that he was coming to bring, because they believed that they either did not need forgiveness of sins all that much – or they believed that if they needed to be forgiven of their sins, the very fact that they were good enough to pay money to bring those sacrifices or take of their own flock to make those sacrifices was enough to get that forgiveness from God. So the Lord told them, “I don’t want your sacrifices. I want your hearts. I despise your offerings, but a broken and contrite spirit I will not despise. I don’t want you to just be going through the motions.”
All you and I can say is, “I’m sorry when I do.” I’m sorry when I act like God owes me a good life because of how I try so hard to be good. I’m sorry when I try to be noble and sincere because I hope other people will notice how noble I am and how sincere I try to be. I’m sorry when I fail to take the time to remember how good God has been to me to let me know about Christmas rather than let me stay in the dark. I am so sorry for so often going through the motions in my Christian life, acting so often like Christmas really isn’t that big of a deal spiritually, acting so often like I am empty when it comes to Christmas, even if to others it seems that I am full of holiday cheer and the season’s spirit.
But in warning these Hebrew Christians not to go back to an empty way of life, the Lord was also lovingly encouraging them to know they had a full life – a great life – a Christmas-every-day-of-their-life kind of life right now, because they had someone in their life who had made the sacrifice to please God which they could not make to please God – and he made it once for all. In verse 9 we read of Jesus, “Then he said, ‘Here I am. I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first (those old many sacrifices) to establish the second (his own one-time sacrifice). And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Jesus went through the motions in a totally different way, didn’t he? He didn’t go through the motions in a “Oh-I-suppose-I should” way, but his will was exactly the same as that of his heavenly Father, even though that meant that he, the eternal Son of God, would suffer and die just like a lamb of sacrifice. He went through the motions in a totally different way, because he knew that it was through the sacrifice of someone who really had something to sacrifice – since he was holy and perfect – that anyone else could ever be considered holy and perfect by the holy and perfect God.
Those were not just the motions of someone who was a nice little baby to look at in the manger. Those were the actions of our Savior God, the same Savior God who had put the world into motion, since without him nothing in this world was made that has been made. Those were the actions of the same Savior God who put into motion waters of the sea to separate so people could cross through, the sun to stop so soldiers could fight on, lions to keep from devouring a defenseless prophet so he could continue to give glory to the Lord of heaven and earth. Those were the actions of the Lord God of heaven and earth who let sinful hands do sinful things to his sinless frame so his holy name could be given all honor and glory world without end.
When it comes to going through the motions at Christmas, I’m sorry when I do, but I’m thankful that He did. I’m thankful that Jesus said of himself, as we read earlier, in verse 5: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” That word “prepared” refers to God working out everything just right to make things ready at just the right time for his one and only Son to come into the world to give his body into death for the sins of the world — that same body that would rise to life and return to the place where our bodies by faith will someday go.
And so our bodies and souls and hearts and hands and voices are prepared for Christmas. We know that it can be so easy to go through the motions at Christmas for so many reasons, but we also know that the way Jesus Christ went through the motions at Christmas gives us every reason to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices — sacrifices dedicated to enjoy Christmas because it celebrates the arrival of our Savior from sin, sacrifices energized to make every day a Christmas Day, because through the sacrifice of Jesus, that’s exactly what every day is. No matter you how up or down you may feel right now, may your dear Lord put into motion that kind of Christmas celebration in your life on Christmas Day – and always. Amen.