During the holiday season, we often think more about heavenly things; looking beyond the wrapping paper and the decorations. We turn to the Bible, and we ponder the stories of Jesus. In Luke, chapter 2 of the King James Version, we read about one incredible account,and we recognize it for what it really is; A beautiful moment in history ushering in a change in sacrifice, and ushering in a higher law of love! The birth of Jesus Christ and the miracle that it was, give us moments to reflect and celebrate.
This is a holy story of both the life of Jesus, and also of Mary and Joseph. Indeed every person whose life was touched by Jesus shares a part of the tale I am about to tell.
Before I begin, please note the use of the word “Sacrifice.” It dates back in history to ancient times, as both what we know as a noun, and a verb. As a noun, in the late thirteenth century, sacrifice meant “offering of something (especially a life) to a deity as an act of propitiation or homage;” mid-fourteenth century., “that which is offered in sacrifice,” from Old French sacrifise “sacrifice, offering” (12c.), from Latin sacrificium, from sacrificus “performing priestly functions or sacrifices,” from sacra “sacred rites” (properly neuter plural of sacer “sacred;” + combining form of facere “to make, to do”. Latin sacrificium is glossed in Old English by ansegdniss. The “act of giving up one thing for another; something given up for the sake of another” is first recorded 1590’s.
To use the word as a verb, you may read as early as the beginning of time. In the book of Moses we read that Adam built an altar unto the Lord for a sacrifice. He sacrificed. “To offer something to a deity, as a sacrifice, meaning “surrender, give up, suffer to be lost.”
And now, let me begin our tale. It is one you have heard parts of. I call it, The “Sixth Sacrifice.”
Long ago, a fair maiden, betrothed to a man both kind and of noble lineage was visited by an angel of God. This Angel, Gabriel by name, told her to not be afraid. She had a special calling in life. She was to be the mother of the Savior of the world. We know her name as Mary. Mary was asked to be a sacrifice. In those moments of reflection, it surely must have crossed her mind the overwhelming task before her. As a young woman, her life would change forever. According to Jewish law, she should even be put to death for carrying a child out of wedlock. She knew that Joseph, her betrothed had every right to have her stoned. What was her response? “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”
Young Mary, merely a child herself, submitted to the scrutiny of a woman of “ill-repute” and faced divorcement, and death from her betrothed in order to fulfill her sacrificial role. Imagine the strength of her heart! Mary was the first sacrifice for the lamb. She gave her will.
Joseph we know, was to be Mary’s husband. When he found out what had happened his immediate thought was to take her privately away and divorce her. They were legally husband and wife through this period of time, even though he had not yet paid the bride price. Joseph was then visited by an angel, and was told that he should take her as a wife. Immediately Joseph followed the council of God. He too accepted the sacrifices that were to come to them. Joseph was the second sacrifice for the lamb. He gave up his pride.
We know the rest of the story. It is found in the book of Luke. The Savior of the world was born into the world. What you may not know is how our view of the story dims parts that made it all a truly symbolic experience.
Stone is the most common building material in Jerusalem. We associate the birth of the Savior with a wooden manger filled with hay. This is most likely NOT the case. The manger would have been made of stone, and the Judean hills are grass covered. There is no need to store food, because the animals are put out to eat. Thus, the manger was probably a stone slab, slightly indented to hold water. But, for the sake of argument, we could include the hay. It adds to the concept that we too must go to him who was laid in a manger, to give us spiritual food.
Jesus was wrapped in swaddling bands. This too is no coincidence. These bands were lovingly prepared by Mary, and as any young woman of her time, would have been embroidered with the lineage of the two families. At the marriage of Mary and Joseph these bands would have been wrapped around their hands to symbolize the joining of two families. Mary’s lineage bands would have represented the house of Judah which was symbolized by the lamb and the lion or the tree of life. Joseph’s bands would have represented the royal house of David, and contained the royal colors of blue and white. The symbolic significance of swaddling bands was so important that the embroidery on each side of the swaddling bands had to match exactly, with “right” and “wrong” sides indistinguishable. This symbolized the complete harmony of inner and outward life, which was appropriate for the child that they would be wrapped around.
The birth of the Son of God was the third sacrifice, which came as a gift from the Almighty, wherein he [sacrificed] His Son to come to earth and be not only a leader, but our literal Savior. Jesus Christ would spend his life learning the skills of a carpenter, and caring for those around Him. He would spend the last three years of His life ministering and preparing the way… to be a sacrifice for all. In the end, even the Almighty, God the Father, had to turn away, that He might not witness the agony of the Savior. He gave His Son completely as His perfect Lamb.
But I get ahead of myself.
The shepherds on the hillside were the fourth sacrifice. They were visited by the angel of the Lord, and they were told to spread the word of the birth of the Savior. These shepherds witnessed the heavens open, and they said amongst themselves, ”Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” They went immediately, and found the little family. The shepherds sacrificed their time and livelihood. They left their flocks– to witness their own introduction into the flock of the Lamb of God. What beautiful mirroring this is.
The fifth sacrifice came from the wise men from the East. These “magi” as we may know them as, had studied the heavens, and the books of the earth to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. When they saw the star appear in the East, they set out to seek the Christ child who should come. There quest would take time. It would lead them to a wicked king who sought to destroy the child. It would also bring them visions by angels to travel home another route, and it would bring their sacrificial gifts to the Christ child.
Gold, a gift for royalty, or for presenting to a King. Frankincense was also a significant gift. It was used in temple worship. It was mixed with the oil that was used to anoint the high priests of Israel. It was part of the meal offerings that were offerings of thanksgiving and praise to God. In presenting this gift the wise men pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to His Father.
Myrrh was meant for royalty in the case of death, and used for embalming . Presenting the young child with Myrrh was symbolic that the wise men were giving up their sins, to be cleansed. It was a gift of faith. We do not know precisely what the wise men may have known or guessed about Christ’s ministry, but we do know that the Old Testament again and again foretold His suffering.
The sixth sacrifice brings us to modern time, yet spans the eternities. Look to the symbols we surround ourselves with at Christmas time. A fir tree, representing unending life. A star, or angel atop– in remembrance of the heralding in of our Lord’s birth. Lights upon the branches, reminds us that Christ should be the light of our life, and that we should look to Him to light our way. Candy canes are shaped like a shepherds crook, and swirled with red and white, representing purity, and the atoning blood of the Savior. The gifts placed under the tree become symbols- not merely toys and accessories to our busy lives. They represent another gift. Precious. Life giving. One which cannot be bested or improved upon. The sixth sacrifice is the one of the lamb, and we surround ourselves with it each year at the end of December. The sixth sacrifice gave all. The lamb. The Son of God. Jesus Christ was meant to come as a sacrifice, [noun] and BE sacrificed. His love for all mankind is what we feel at this season. In his life, and in his teachings Christ showed us how to sacrifice of our pride, our will, our time, our all, and to do it with a heart full of mercy and love. Just as a firstling lamb, taken before the high priest to be sacrificed, his was a life unblemished.
The perfect sixth sacrifice.
The story does not end here my friends. There is another beautiful seventh sacrifice. It is the one we lay before the feet of the Lord. Our sacrifice to try to be better people. To love as He would love. To treat all men with kindness and respect. To better the lives of the less fortunate. That we may turn around and bless others, thus continuing the story of the Lamb.
In the end, the “Sixth Sacrifice was the Lamb” is one of perfection. We desire the carols, the tinsel, the family gatherings, the presents under the tree. What we NEED is to find our place in the story of God. My friends, happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and let’s make this New Year one where we love ourselves and others as the Savior would.
Author: Katie Stevens
Katie is the busy mother of four children, and both a teacher and a writer. She loves working behind the scenes at a Good Cause, and her passions include philanthropy and mentoring. She is a singer by birth and a choral director by choice. In her spare time she sleeps, but her spare time IS between 11 pm and 5 am!