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How Far Is It to Bethlehem?

“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come—In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.” Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”

(Hebrews 10:5-10).

The Way of St. James is a pilgrimage undertaken by many thousands each year. The main route across northern Spain is a journey of nearly five hundred miles that many travel on foot. I once met a man who told me that he had walked it twice. He said that if you make this difficult pilgrimage, at some point along the way you will find God.

It’s an old and enduring idea that you can draw closer to God by walking a long road or by struggling up a rocky slope on your knees. And this is only one variation on the common theme that we can and must lift ourselves up to God by our own efforts.

These verses in Hebrews teach that this task is an impossible one for us sinners. God’s Old Testament people couldn’t lift themselves up to God, not even by means of the sacrifices and offerings that God Himself had instituted for them. The writer quotes a portion of Psalm 40 to show that God had no pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices. He had not given them as a means to do away with human sin and guilt, a feat that no work of human hands could accomplish.

How then could our sin be removed, if not by our efforts and strivings, our sacrifices and offerings? The answer is in the Psalm quotation here, where we hear the voice of Christ speaking in prophecy. A body had been prepared for Him, He says. He, the eternal Son of God, was to become incarnate in human flesh. With His sinless human nature He, the Christ, would do the will of God. In the body prepared for Him He would live a perfect life and then give that perfect life and sinless body as an offering for sin.

Christ came in the flesh as the prophecy promised. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a perfect life, and then in obedience to the saving will of the Father He offered up His life on the cross. His sacrifice for our sins was acceptable to God. By it we have been sanctified, set apart for God. We have been reconciled to Him and have become His own dear children.

Soon we will again celebrate the incarnation of Christ, His coming into this world in the flesh as a little child. This celebration is a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey to Bethlehem to see “this thing that has come to pass” (Luke 2:15), the Babe lying in a manger. It’s not a long journey, nor is it a hard one, but one made in heart and mind. It isn’t a struggle to “find God,” for in Christ God has come to us to bless us and save us.

John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.