Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The "Potential" Harms of Holidays

Well it looks as if the holiday season is once again upon us. I was at Subway this afternoon in Pittsburgh hearing the Christmas music as I read and had my lunch. Very few stores can be found now without a Christmas tree in the window and I noticed driving around last night several homes already have their Christmas lights up. However, I began pondering a few things this afternoon as I chewed to the tune of "All I Want for Christmas is You." While the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter can be a blessing, in many ways there are some "harms" associated with them that we must be cautious of. Before you label me as crazy (or for some probably "crazier" than you already thought me to be) and click away from this blog, take a moment to consider one of my "pastoral ponderings" and make sure to read all the way through so you know that I am NOT throwing these holidays out.

Confusing Communications
One of the harms of these holidays concerns what they appear to communicate to us. For instance, the presence of a holiday known as "Thanksgiving" makes it seem that only one day a year we should set aside time to "count our many blessings, name them one by one, count our many blessings, see what the Lord has done." For the past month I have noticed on Facebook people mentioning something they are thankful for each day. Yet the Bible instructs us to be thankful always (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Not just one month out of the year or the fourth Thursday of November. Having a holiday reserved just for thanksgiving makes it seem that one day greater than any others we should express our gratitude to God for His numerous blessings when really we should continuously have an "attitude of gratitude" daily.

Similar can be said pertaining to the holidays of Christmas and Easter. Having a day to celebrate Christ's birth has created the mentality that we should only praise God for that birth around the month of December. Shouldn't we be celebrating God coming to earth to save sinners all year? It is funny how some people get so worked up when they hear a Christmas carol in July or in October before the season begins. Hymns exalting the Christ who was born in Bethlehem "born that men no more may die" should really be sung every month, not just December. In fact, "Joy to the World" is based on Psalm 98 and yet it finds itself regulated just to Christmastime. (I confess that I am guilty of not having the congregation sing any of these so-called "Christmas Carols" or "Christmas Hymns" apart from the season of Advent but that might change soon.)

With Easter and the special services we have on that day, does that communicate that it is a better day to celebrate Christ's resurrection than every other day? One of the reasons why the early church decided to meet on Sunday for worship was to commemorate Christ's resurrection since it was on a Sunday morning that He rose from the dead. So really every Sunday should serve as the reminder of Christ's resurrection and not just a certain one in March or April, whenever it may fall based on the new moon.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn't celebrate these holidays. I just finished putting together the readings for the Advent wreath for each Sunday and am contemplating some Scriptures to preach on that deal with Christ's birth. The Old Testament has a number of feast days that would commemorate certain things that God had done for the people, such as Passover. My point is that we need to be careful that we do not fall prey to the idea that these are the "ONLY" times to give thanks or to celebrate Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. That we should be striving to remember these things always and not limit them to just one day or month a year.

Sinister Syncretism
Another "potential" harm of the holidays is that of syncretism. The term syncretism means basically to combine different opposing things together. This was one of the main pitfalls of the nation of Israel. The problem with the Israelites in the Old Testament was not primarily that they did not worship the one true God, Yahweh, but that they did not worship Him alone. They would attempt to worship Him but also set up altars to foreign gods and participate in the rituals and practices associated with them. They merged elements of pagan worship with that of the true worship of God. Much of our holidays of Christmas and Easter have succumbed to syncretism.

Christmas has become the celebration of both the Son of God and the Santa god. If you really think about it, much of the popular conceptions of Santa Claus make him appear to be deity. He is all-knowing like God for "he sees you when you are sleeping, he knows when you are awake, he knows if you have been bad or good." He is portrayed as all-powerful in that he is able to get to every house every Christmas Eve in such a short time. (Though unfortunately, there is not much difference between many people's conceptions of Jesus than Santa Claus. They view both of them as giving them whatever they ask for if they only believe enough and behave.) Here we have syncretism. Are we celebrating the Son of God who came to earth as God's greatest gift or a big jolly fat man who comes into people's homes to give several gifts? There is actually an interesting country song that says that "Jesus gets jealous of Santa Claus" which is true since Jesus get jealous of any rivals. In many ways ole Saint Nick has become a rival god! Children get much more excited about him and the gifts that he may bring than the gift of the One born in the manger!

Not only is the celebration of Santa added to some folks' celebration of Christ but also the god known as "materialism." It certainly is clear what several people celebrate at Christmas. Just look at how serious some people take the American holiday called "Black Friday" or how important it becomes to them to buy the greatest gift someone in their family wants, regardless of the price. Even if it means going into debt to get it. Whatever happened to God's indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)? Much of Christmas has become a list of wants without Christ as the center. Many today attempt to participate both in the worship of Christ and the worship of money.

Someone may be quick to point out to me that Christmas actually began as a pagan holiday that the Christians countered by choosing to celebrate Jesus' birthday on that day. That really is not germane to my point. I am more concerned with how people celebrate the holiday today and unfortunately many have fallen prey to syncretism in combining the celebration of Christ with the celebration of materialism.

The same type of syncretism can be found with Easter as well. Much of Easter is the celebration of the goddess of Spring. Alongside the symbols of the cross and the empty tomb representing our Lord and Savior's death and resurrection, we find that of bunnies, eggs, and other signs of Spring. Many go to an Easter Sunrise Service to celebrate Christ's resurrection and then later that afternoon to hide Easter eggs to celebrate Spring. It is an interesting combination of these different practices and rituals. The question we must ask ourselves is Who or what are we really celebrating in these holidays? Christ, Santa, Money, or Spring?

Helpful Holidays
Please don't think that I am a Scrooge or a Grinch. I enjoy Christmas. I really do. I just have some concerns about what these holidays may communicate and the syncretism many unwittingly participate in that deflects from Christ who should always be our main focus. One of the best benefits of these holidays is the open door for evangelism that they provide. Regardless of how the special days originated before Christians sought to plan their own celebrations at the same time, the watching world has some inkling that the day has something to do with Christ for believers. I have had people ask me around Christmas time if that is when Jesus died. It provided a wonderful way to begin a discussion concerning Who Jesus is and why He died. Christmas and Easter are the two times a year that Jesus actually gets a mention on the radio or secular television programs (apart from His name being used in vain). Thereby giving us some great witness opportunities.

One of the worst ways we can squander such opportunities is by being so consumed about Santa Claus, gifts, and Easter bunnies that we forget about Christ or we reveal Him to be secondary to other things. That communicates that Christ is not all important or all satisfying to us. Which in turn makes others fail to see Him to be such as He should be. Don't waste the wonderful opportunities that these holidays provide for us in fulfilling the Great Commission!

So enjoy the holidays, but don't limit your celebrations of Christ to just them and make sure that Christ remains the center of all that you celebrate, from Christmas to Easter to a baby's birth to your anniversary to every day and every breath.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

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