As we begin the Advent Season in preparation for Christmas, it's a good time to remember and meditate on why Christ came to us in the flesh in the first place!
I'm not convinced we think or know enough about this topic, which is foundational to our Catholic Faith and key to the mystery of our lives and our eternal salvation.
So a repeat/refresher/review is in order:
In my "What I Never Learned in CCD" series on the basics of salvation history, we talked about how painful it is for a soul to be separated from God, and that all of life is really a search for union with the Trinity (even though many souls are not consciously aware of what they are longing for).
From the beginning, humanity has tried to “make things right”, attempting to heal the rift that has existed between God and man since that first sin in the Garden of Eden. The primary means to that end has been offering sacrifice.
Sacrifice is, by definition, a giving up or offering of something precious.
We've talked earlier about the nature of love, about how love is an act of the will and must be freely given and freely received (or it is not love), how love must have an object, and how love is always fruitful. And, true love is always sacrificial. Think of our own relationships with our family members and loved ones: We sacrifice for them, i.e., offer ourselves and our lives for them, out of love.
In Old Testament days, before Jesus came to earth, the people offered sacrifices to God in order to show them that they loved Him, to thank Him for His many gifts, and in order to make up for their sins. Then, just as today, the sacrifice most acceptable and pleasing to God was one offered with a pure heart, out of true love.
The thing being offered or sacrificed was always burned or destroyed, to show that it was being given back to God completely. It was also the best that the person had to offer; for example, farmers would offer God the “first fruits” of their harvests, and a shepherd would give his best lamb.
After a while, in Moses’ time, priests were appointed to offer the sacrifices on behalf of all God’s people.
Interesting to note that, while God’s chosen people (the Hebrew people, also known as the Israelites) were offering all those sacrifices to God, the pagans were busy offering sacrifices to their false gods as well. This is natural, not surprising. God has left His “thumbprint” on each person’s soul, a distant echo of Himself. Everyone, on some level, knows that we are separated from God, and that sacrifice is needed in order to make up for our sins. Unfortunately, there were occasions when the pagans sacrificed human beings to their gods, something that the true God never requires!
But getting back to the Hebrew people, the purpose of all these elaborate, bloody, ritualistic sacrifices was a deep longing to make up for Adam’s sin and to “build a bridge” back to God. In reality, all those millions of sacrifices were pointing to, or foreshadowing, the only Sacrifice which actually could build a bridge back to God, namely Jesus’ own offering of Himself on the Cross.
Think about it, and try to follow my logic here: To make up perfectly for the sin of Adam (i.e., to reconcile God and man perfectly), man’s sacrifice would have to be perfect. Yet, how could sinful man offer a perfect sacrifice when he himself is imperfect, and when the gift, no matter how good, is imperfect as well?
The answer is that he couldn’t; it is simply impossible.
So we humans really had a problem. Those millions of animal and other sacrifices just couldn’t reconcile us completely, perfectly, to God. We were still lost.
Only God, Who is perfect, could provide a perfect sacrifice.
And that's exactly what God had planned for our reconciliation all along. “In the fullness of time,” the Second Person of the Holy Trinity -- the Beloved Son -- came down from Heaven and became man. He became one of us, fully human, while remaining fully divine (i.e., sinless).
Jesus Christ alone, the God-Man, could represent both sides!
Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross was the perfect offering, the likes of which no other man could present to the Father. As true man, Jesus is able to act on behalf of all mankind. As true God, the Sacrifice is utterly perfect, therefore completely acceptable to the Father. Jesus, as both Priest and Victim, offered Himself, out of pure love, in atonement for all of our sins.
If God had never come to earth by taking on human flesh, if the Second Person of the Holy Trinity did not become Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin's womb, we would still be in our sin. There would be no bridge between us and God. Heaven would be closed to us.
But instead, perfect Love reconciled Heaven and earth, God and man.
Christ's Sacrifice of love was so powerful, so beautiful, so complete, that it unleashed a torrent of grace upon the earth, which washed away the sin of Adam and redeemed the whole human race, reopening the gates of Heaven.
Think on this glorious mystery during this holy season of Advent, as we await the coming of our Savior.
Aaaaand as if to prove how imperfect we really are, here is a view of the Millers' Advent wreath today! Yes, last night we found ourselves still without Advent candles, so we improvised, and badly. Note that the purple (my son's chess tournament participation ribbon) and the rose (speaks for itself) are present! One child held up a tea light during prayers, in the general vicinity of the wreath, ha! We will do better next week, that's for sure.
Blessed Advent to all!
And don't forget that you have four more days to enter the book giveaway from last Friday! Good luck!