Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent, a time in which Christians traditionally prepare themselves by reflection and prayer for the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, God made flesh. Ultimately, of course, Jesus was sacrificed upon the Cross for our sins, and “sacrifice” is a fit subject for Advent reflection:
We may think of sacrifice in its patriotic or collective sense, as when we attended a Veterans’ Day parade or when an earlier generation watched a movie about World War II hero Audie Murphy (1925-1971).
More commonly, we talk about sacrifice in its individual or instrumental sense, as when we say that an athlete has made sacrifices to achieve proficiency in a sport; when parents scrimp and save to send their children to college; or when George Bailey puts everybody else first in It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
We even grapple with “sacrifice” in its entertainment sense. We are great consumers of fiction and nonfiction books and films about serial killers and psychopaths, many of whom are presented to us as treating their victims sacrificially.
None of this is how scripture views sacrifice. The distinction is critical: in one direction lies death (Christmas movies and serial killers); in the other direction we find life. How is this so?