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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, December 22, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Hebrews 8:1–13

Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. God finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear. (NRSV)

We sing it every Christmas, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the last verse declaring the Good News in a verse: “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” The author of the letter to the Hebrews celebrates this good news of a New Covenant. The Old Covenant given to Moses during the exodus from slavery in Egypt had failed. The people could not remain faithful to their God and suffered the destruction of their temple in 586 BCE and seventy years of exile in Babylon.

The prophets lamented this failure. To Isaiah, Israel was like a chopped down tree (Isaiah 11:1–2), a stump. To Ezekiel, Israel was dead, like a valley full of dry bones (Ezekiel 37; see Matt Helms’s devotion from December 6). To Jeremiah, Israel was a beautiful clay pot that had been ruined as the Potter shaped it (Jeremiah 18:1–6). Hopeless, ruined, done. Have you ever felt that way? Some great failure, or illness, a handicap you have tried to deal with all your life, or a sin that you feel is unforgiveable and your life is like so many pieces of a shattered stained-glass window?

It is at this place of hopelessness that the prophets are given a sure message of hope. It is like a little shoot springing out of a dead stump; like dry bones coming to life again; like a ruined pot being reshaped in the loving hand of the Potter. A Savior will come who will rewrite the covenant, this time not on tablets of stone, but written on our hearts! (Jeremiah 31:31–34, quoted by the author of the letter to the Hebrews). Could this Savior not only cleanse us of our sins but make our hearts soft and tender with a new love for our God, a new desire to live for our God?

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today! Amen.

Written by David Handley, Interim Minister for Caring Ministries

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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