The Party-Driven God!
By Rev. William Dohle
How does your family celebrate the holidays??
Last night at our Couples Group at St. Paul, a group of us discussed how each of our families celebrated the holidays. It was really cool to hear the differences.
Some people traveled all over the place for the holidays. Their Christmas season consisted of going here and there and everywhere!
Some people stayed at home(my wife and I were among them). Because of distance, we chose to spend the holidays with family that was nearby. We really didn't have the traveling problems that the rest did.
Some people had lots and lots of traditions.
Some people had few.
Some were deciding on how much to decorate.
Some had already decorated.
The Christmas holiday is great for Christians, I think, in that we have so many different ways to celebrate.
But what is the right way? Or is there? Is there a right way to celebrate the holidays? Is there a way ordained by God?
You might be surprised, but the Christmas holiday isn't mentioned in the Bible. Not once. The disciples never celebrated Jesus birthday and if they had, they would have celebrated in the fall and not in the winter. There is a lot of history behind Christmas, why Christians celebrate it in winter and what the significance the 25th of December is. (Spoiler alert: It has to do with a pagan goddess who is said to have been born on the 25th. The Christians just subsumed an ancient Roman tradition.).
So with no guidance from scripture, are holidays important? Is it right to set aside one day apart from all the others?
The answer to this is a resounding: Yes! Holidays are important!
In the book of Numbers, for instance, God commands his people to celebrate certain holidays. Here's a list of holidays that Israel is commanded in Numbers to celebrate:
- The Sabbath(or Shabbat). This is a weekly holiday. Why? God figures we need a chance to rest each week from all our labors. God rested in creation and God commands his people to do the same.
- The Feast of Trumpets (Or Rosh Hashanna). This celebration takes place in September and is the Jewish New Year. If you have a chance to attend services at a synagogue on this day, I highly recommend it. It's a powerful testimony to the greatness of God! Plus it's a lot of fun!
- The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur... This is the day when the people atone from their sin. More than 24 hours of total fasting and praying occurs on this day. Traditionally, it is said that at the close of Yom Kippur, God makes his final decision on each persons fate for the year and records it in the Book of Judgment.
- The Feast of Tabernacles(or Succot) : Just 5 days from Yom Kippur comes Succot. During this holiday, Jews dwell outdoors in a booth. Tents are erected outside homes and synagogues and Jews are encouraged to eat the first meal of their holiday in it.
- Passover (or Pesach) : This commemorates God's deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. For seven or eight days, Jews eat Matzah(unleavened bread) and abstain from foods containing leaven. Modern Jews celebrate this with feasts called Seders which recount the story of the exodus.
- Feast of Weeks (or Shavuot). This celebrates the giving of the Torah. It takes place approximately 50 days after Passover. It's also called, in Greek, Pentecost.
Probably the coolest part of learning about this holidays is simple. These are the holidays Jesus and his disciples celebrated! Jesus never celebrated Christmas. Never said "Merry Christmas" or put up a Christmas tree. Jesus never celebrated Easter or any of the other holidays we celebrate today. Jesus celebrated these ancient holidays, celebrated still by the Jewish people today.
But even these holidays and their celebrations have changed over time. With the Temple gone, none of the sacrifices commanded can be fulfilled. The ways of celebrating even these holidays have changed. But the spirit remains.
And as Christians begin to enter into the seasons of our holidays, where Advent is followed by Christmas which will be followed, two months later, by Lent and Easter, we too may find inspiration in these holidays. For God isn't a God who disdains our celebrations but one who celebrates with us. God is the one who invites the homeless and the outcast and the widow and those without a family and friends to come to the table to celebrate and party. For God loves a good party and God wants even those we've cast out at the table with Him.
Give us joy, God, as we celebrate while, at the same time, opening our eyes to see and welcome those hanging out at the edges of our celebrations. Amen.