Alfred Vanderbilt was a member of THAT Vanderbilt family. He lived a life of luxury and ease. He was so wealthy that he was scheduled to be a passenger on the Titanic. He cancelled at the last minute. You could say that he led a charmed life. He was also a passenger on the RMS Lusitania. He made that voyage. When the German torpedo hit the ship and the ship began sinking, rather than running to safety he passed out life belts and directed people to the nearest life boats. With one life belt left, he was about to head to the life boats when he saw a young mother with a baby. He gave her the life belt and sacrificed his own life for her sake.
When we think about religion, how often do we associate it with sacrifice? We think of the animal sacrifices found in Judaism during the time of the Temple. Other religions still practice animal sacrifices even today. If you think further back in history, some religions even practiced human sacrifice in order to make the god or gods happy. As followers of Christ we don’t look at sacrifices that involve killing an animal or a human being, we think about our sacrifices in terms of money or time spent to honor God. And yet, at Christmas time we are reminded that God sacrifices His Only Son for us and that He doesn’t desire what we would consider sacrifices. “First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’—though they were offered in accordance with the law.” (Hebrews 10:8)
That desire to sacrifice to please God is a common one. We give our offerings, we give to special offerings, we take extra time and volunteer to help others all, perhaps, with the idea of doing something to please God. There is nothing wrong with any of those activities. They are good things to do. But, they don’t pay the penalty for sin. The author of Hebrews made a point of telling the people that all of the sacrifices that had been made, even though they were in accordance with the law, did not please God. The problem was that people following through on what the law said were following the Law without having the right attitude in their hearts. The sacrifice that God wants is a broken and contrite heart. So many people go through the motions trying to find the right way to do things to get God to love them and the common method involves some kind of sacrifice. Throughout the ages men have sought to worship or appease the gods they thought existed by some kind of sacrifice. The Jews followed the letter of the Law to make their sacrifices, but when their hearts weren’t right, their sacrifices didn’t please God.
The amazing thing about our faith is that it isn’t our sacrifices that please God. What pleases God is when we accept His sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was sent to earth as a baby, lived on earth for a limited time – something like 33 years – and then died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins. It is when we accept what God has done for us that we please Him. We accept His forgiveness. We accept His grace. We accept His sacrifice. Then, any of the good works we do are not done hoping that God will accept them and think good about us, they are done because we know that God has already forgiven us and we can do these things out of gratitude for what God has already done. The birth of a baby and the ultimate sacrifice on the cross happened so that God could give us His love and grace.
Thank You Lord for Your great sacrifice. It is because of You that we can be called Your children. As we celebrate the beginning of that sacrifice at Christmas time, remind us of how Your great love flows through this whole season.