In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
–Psalm 40:6-8 (ESV)
When the author of the letter to the Hebrews sought to explain Christ’s coming into the world, he could have simply retold Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. He might have quoted any of the Old Testament prophets—passages like Isaiah 9, Isaiah 61, or Malachi 4. But rather than any of these familiar Christmas-y texts, the apostle chose as his reference a psalm: Psalm 40.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
‘Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”’
When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The glory of Christ’s birth is found in the fact that he willingly took on himself the form of a servant to redeem us. Charles Spurgeon comments on Psalm 40:7 thus:
O blessed ‘then said I.’ Lord, ever give us to hear and feed on such living words as these, so peculiarly and personally thine own. ‘Lo, I come.’ Behold, O heavens, and thou earth, and ye places under the earth! Here is something worthy of your intensest gaze. Sit ye down and watch with earnestness, for the invisible God comes in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as an infant the Infinite hangs at a virgin’s breast! Immanuel did not send but come; he came in his own personality, in all that constituted his essential self he came forth from the ivory palaces to the abodes of misery; he came promptly at the destined hour; he came with sacred alacrity as one freely offering himself.…What a privilege to find our names written in the book of life, and what an honour, since the name of Jesus heads the page!
This Christmas, let us refuse to limit our focus to the baby Jesus in the manger, the shepherds in the fields, the angels in the sky, or the Wise Men from the east. Rather, Psalm 40 teaches us to look with awe at the whole scope of God’s eternal salvation plan. We need only remember the significance of that baby’s name, Immanuel—God with us! The Belgic Confession (Article 18) explains the true meaning of Christmas this way:
We confess, therefore, that God has fulfilled the promise which He made to the fathers by the mouth of His holy prophets, when He sent into the world, at the time appointed by Him, His own only-begotten and eternal Son, who took upon Him the form of a servant and became like unto man, really assuming the true human nature with all its infirmities, sin excepted; being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit without the means of man; and did not only assume human nature as to the body, but also a true human soul, that He might be a real man. For since the soul was lost as well as the body, it was necessary that He should take both upon Him, to save both.
Readers, may your Christmas be radiant with the light that comes only through the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Here are some recordings from Cornerstone URC of the Psalter Hymnal’s versifications of Psalm 40: