“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice (θυσίαν ζῶσαν), holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (λογικὴν λατρείαν). Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed (μεταμορφοῦσθε) by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12: 1-2)

The term “sacrifice” is often misunderstood in Christian theology in general, and in liturgical theology in particular. Here St. Paul characterizes not only our liturgy (“logike latreia,” a term that the Byzantine tradition refers to the Divine Liturgy), but Christian life in general, as sacrificial.

What is “sacrifice” (literally meaning “to make sacred,” from “sacer,” sacred, and “facere,” to make), properly understood in the Christian sense? It is not, as many of us tend to think, something that we, as human beings initiate and then direct toward God, Who then accepts it (or doesn’t). No. “Sacrifice” or the “making sacred” of anything is a divine capacity, initiated and inspired by the Self-offering love of God, “Who so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3: 16). “Sacrifice” begins in the loving Self-giving of the Father, of His Son to us, and in the “response” or Self-offering “obedience” of the Son to His Father’s will, in the Spirit Who rested upon Him, and consequently pours His grace abundantly upon us, as the Spirit wills. It is by His grace, or “by the mercies of God,” and not on our own, that we participate in this “sacrificial,” self-offering love and life of the Holy Trinity. We do this when we offer ourselves up to communion with Him, responding to God’s love with love, and thus letting ourselves “be transformed.”

So let me let myself be transformed today, a little bit more, from my merely-human mistrust and fear of God’s love, to surrendering to it, in His grace, as we all head toward Bethlehem!