Mercy Not Sacrifice

Over the past weeks, my days, and I’m sure many of yours, have turned into a litany of tasks. This litany begins in my head, moves to a written form in a small, black planner, and then, eventually, takes shape as action.

As the days have progressed, I’ve lost sight of the reason for this activity. All I can do is look at the next item on the list. Print labels for Christmas cards. It’s checked off. Touch up newly painted walls. Check. I’m completing tasks, yet joy is missing. Are the cards and painting merely tasks I feel I’m supposed to do or do they help me live into a larger story? While a purpose behind these activities is missing, patience for anything outside of my small to-do list is nearly absent.

To counter this dry spell, I’m eager to return, or at least be more aware of, the pilgrim path on which I’m walking. Right now I may be on a path, but I’m not sure why. With this renewed desire, a verse keeps going through my head, though it’s one not usually associated with this time of year. As the Pharisees are criticizing Jesus for hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus urges them to learn what this means:

I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matt 9:13, 12:7)

I’ve undertaken this challenge myself. When I consider the daily litany of tasks, I know I’m in the realm of sacrifice. I’m trying to prove myself to God and to people. I want them to see the sacrifices I make so that they will pat me on the back and even step up to help. Though I may receive some initial profit from this way, I know it’s a desert path. A path that leads back to me even as I claim to be doing for others. Sacrifice alone is a withering, dead end. Furthermore, no amount of sacrifice on my part will come close to what God requires of me – perfection. So what can I do?

Looking through the lens of mercy changes this question. It’s not about what I can do, but what has been done for me. It turns out when I look more closely at my life, I need mercy – and this comes in the Christmas story. The angels mentioned by Luke weren’t singing mournful tunes of the sacrifice God was making for his people by taking on human flesh. No, they were singing joyous anthems resting in God’s mercy.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. (Luke 2:14)

IMG_3963So as I look at these lists again in the midst of Christmas, I pray that they will become a litany of praise to God for the work He has done and, in this awareness, that I will extend mercy to those around me in both times of brokenness and celebration. Ultimately, I seek a pilgrim path that is continually looking to God to mercifully guide, allowing me to be wrapped in its extravagance, and then living out of that reality no matter the situation, or how long the list.

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