Tag Archives: celebrate

Celebrating with aliens, the fatherless and widows [God’s heart for the holidays, part 5]

9 Nov

In this series of posts, we are seeking to learn God’s heart for the holidays in Deuteronomy 16, through three feasts he asks Israel to keep every year.  In the previous few posts, God expresses his heart for remembering, and in this fifth and final post, we’re going to look at two more themes. 

The second theme we see in Deuteronomy 16 is about Inclusion.

Did you notice a repeated phrase that described the Jewish feasts?  Look at verses 11 and 14.  Not only did these feasts include a person’s immediate family, but God also wanted them to include the alien, fatherless and widow!  That is astounding.  Why would God want their gatherings to include all these other people? He tells them.  In verse 12, he wants them to remember that they used to be the aliens when they were slaves in Egypt, in a land that was not their own.

Lest we think this was just a teaching for Israel, Jesus talked about this in Matthew 25:31-46 where he says in no uncertain terms that his followers are to reach out to people on the margins of life.  But the way he describes those on the margins is shocking, as he says that as much as we reach to include the stranger, the orphan, the prisoner, or the hungry, we are reaching out to him! And likewise, when we don’t reach out to those in need, we are neglecting him.  In other words, we need to see people like aliens, orphans and widows not as a threat, not as scary, not as uncomfortable, but as an opportunity to express love to Jesus!  Jesus’ brother James would write about this too, when he says in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” We Christians should be known for reaching out to those in need, including at the holidays.

Photo by Libby Penner on Unsplash

Who are the people on the margins you can reach out to?  Who can you invite to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas with you?  I love the photo above not only because the table is set and ready for guests, but because of the writing on the chalkboard.  Can you see it?  It is Acts 2:46, which is a Bible verse describing how the first Christians, right after Pentecost, practiced being inclusive.  It says, “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”

I recently heard the story of a family that hosts Thanksgiving, inviting mentally disabled people from their community.  What a wonderful way to apply this this teaching.  God has a heart for people on the margins, and he wants us to include them in our lives, even in the celebrations that are traditionally focused on family.

The theme of inclusion leads right into the third theme which is Rejoicing.

We see rejoicing numerous times in Deuteronomy 16.  Look at verses 11, 14 and 15.  Three times God reveals his heart: he wanted his people to rejoice and feast.  And specifically it is a rejoicing in the Lord for the blessings he has poured out on them.  At our family holidays, then, we can purposefully focus our rejoicing on the Lord.  With all the delicious food and sharing of gifts and traditional movies and sports, it can be very easy to give the Lord barely a mention.

Families, I encourage you to think about how you can purposefully include the Lord in your holiday celebrations.  Church families can rejoice like this too.  At most worship services, Faith Church has a time for sharing how God has been at work in our lives.  I’m often a tad nervous about what people will share.  Open mics can be free-wheeling, can’t they?  But it is worth it because it gives us a chance to rejoice together!

We Christians, then, are to be people of rejoicing!  I get it, life can sometimes be hard.  It can be very easy to get grumpy, to complain.  Ask the people around you, what are you known for?  Grumpiness?  Complaining?  Negativity?  Criticism?  People of God, we are to be known for rejoicing! We are joy-filled people because God is so good.  We have received his goodness, and we remember, we include others in our remembering and we rejoice.

So may yours be a church family that celebrates, even in the dark times, because of who God is and what he has done, and because of his constant presence in our lives.  He has been faithful in the past and he is faithful in the present!

Celebrating his provision [God’s heart for the holidays, part 3]

7 Nov

Photo by Jony Ariadi on Unsplash

In this series of posts we are seeking to discover God’s heart for the holidays.  He truly does care about holidays!  So we have been looking at three feasts he commanded the people of Israel to observe every year, with the goal of learning his heart so that we Christians might be able to apply his heart to the holidays we celebrate.  In this post, we look at two more feasts mentioned in Deuteronomy 16 that God wants Israel to celebrate. What we’re going to discover is that these are not connected to remembering events of the past, like we saw in part 2 with Passover, but more so connected to God’s provision in harvest.

The next feast is described in Deuteronomy 16:9-12, the Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost. As verse 9 says, the Feast of Weeks, took place seven weeks after the beginning of the grain harvest.  Pentecost is the Greek word for “50 days,” which is just about 7 weeks.  Its purpose is clearly stated in verse 10:  the Feast of Weeks is a time to thank God for the blessings he gave them, and they rejoiced by giving a freewill offering to God, in proportion to the blessings he poured out on them in the harvest.

The next holiday is also connected to harvest.  Look at 16:13-17, where he talks about the Feast of Tabernacles.  Verse 13 tells us that this feast was to take place seven days after they gathered the produce from their threshing floor and wine-press.  Then they were to be joyful!  Furthermore, through this celebration, they receive the promise of 16:15, of God’s blessing, and that their joy would be complete.  It gives the image of a people who have been hard at work harvesting and now the work is over, and they can party, thankful to God!

Now that we have surveyed all three feasts described in Deuteronomy 16, let’s survey the important themes woven through all three.  I’ll talk about the first theme in this post, and the next two themes in the rest of the series.

First, we saw the theme of regular remembering.  I talked about it already in part 2 of this series, that God has a heart for the holidays, a heart for the people of Israel to remember his faithfulness in their lives. The system of feasts created for Israel a regular yearly rhythm of focusing on the Lord.  Multiple times every year, the pilgrimages and feasts helped the people remember who they were. And who were they? 

We studied this recently when we saw in chapter14:1-2 that God declares Israel his Children, his treasured possession.  In each of these three feasts, they remember and re-enact their identity through the story of how God saved them out of slavery and how he continues to provide for them in the harvest.

We Christians can do the same!  Why? Because God has saved us too, through Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, through the coming of the Holy Spirit, and through the life of the church.  That is why the ancient Christians also created a series of feasts which tell Jesus’ story.  Did you know we Christians have feasts too?  I want to be clear, our feasts are not a part of the New Covenant like Israel’s feasts were commanded by God in the Old Covenant.  In other words, you won’t find these Christian feasts commanded by God in the New Testament.  But because God is a God whose heart beats for his people to regularly remember and celebrate his provision, we Christians are right to make a practice of regular remembrance as well. 

That’s why the ancient Christians created these feasts and holidays or holy days as well.  What are they? Check back in tomorrow for part 4 and we’ll take a look.

Re-enacting to remember [God’s heart for the holidays, part 2]

6 Nov
Image result for gettysburg reenactment smoke

A few years ago the Gettysburg Battlefield celebrated the 150th anniversary of the terrible and momentous events of July 1-3, 1863 during our nation’s Civil War.  Because my family lives about an hour away, we visited the battlefield hoping to see re-enactors.  While we were there before any full battle re-enactment took place, at one point we viewed a company of soldiers perform various rifle assault formations, including firing their weapons.  It was eye-opening for me to see the variations used, as well as the amount of smoke their rifles emitted.  If the wind was low during the original battle, the smoke could have been like thick fog across the fields.  Re-enactment gave me a whole new perspective. 

In this series of posts we’re talking about God’s heart for holidays, and today we’re going to see how re-enactment is very important to God.  I don’t think I ever encountered that phrase before: God’s heart for holidays.  But as we continue studying Deuteronomy 16, God very clearly has a desire for his people to have regular holidays.  Why?  Doesn’t it seem like the God of the universe should have bigger things to fuss over than holidays?  Keep reading, and perhaps we can find out.

Yesterday we talked about how one particular ritual was embedded in many of Israel’s feasts and holidays, and that is the ritual of sacrifice.  In this post, we are going look at the first of three feasts described in Deuteronomy 16 in which Israel performed  sacrifices would take place: Passover, Pentecost (or Weeks) and Tabernacles. As we read about them, we’ll see that God gives the times of the year when these feasts are to take place.  The image below presents an annual calendar of when the various feasts take place, and you’ll notice that there are other feasts not mentioned in Deuteronomy 16.

Before continuing with this post, read Deuteronomy 16:1-8, which talks about the Feast Unleavened Bread and Passover. During the celebration of Passover, Israel was to sacrifice a firstborn animal at the place God chose as a dwelling for his name.  We already heard God, in 15:20, refer to the place he would choose as a dwelling, and he will mention it a number of times in the rest of the passage as well.  So what is this place? 

Remember that Deuteronomy is the second telling of the law.  Thus, these feasts have already been commanded of God previously.  Your Bibles most likely list the Scripture references where you can read the first time that God commanded these feasts. Passover, for example, is previously described in Exodus 12, Leviticus23 and Numbers 28.

You know what that means?  These are not new festivals.  In fact, the people of Israel have already been observing them every year for about 40 years.  So that place where God says they should come, the place that he will choose for his dwelling, that would have been the tabernacle, and eventually, hundreds of years later during the reign of King Solomon, that place would be the temple in the city of Jerusalem. Look ahead to verse 16, and we see that they were to go on a pilgrimage three times every year to this place. One pilgrimage for each of the feasts we are learning about.  That’s where they are to go with their firstborn and celebrate the Passover. 

See that word, “celebrate” in verse 1.  It literally means “prepare” or “keep” the Passover.  It has much more to do with the practice of observing the holiday.  No doubt about it, we’re going to get to the rejoicing and celebrating part.  But here in verse 1, God is instituting the habit of regular holidays.  This same word “celebrate” is repeated in verse 10 and verse 13.  It is the same Hebrew word that refers to preparing or keeping the holiday. 

That is very instructive.  God wants his people to habitually, every year, observe these feasts, these holidays, and for a reason!  What reason?

God wants them to regularly remember his amazing miraculous power that freed them from slavery in Egypt.  The word “Passover” refers to the last of ten plagues that God sent on Egypt in the process of freeing Israel from slavery. 

That final plague was the one where God said the firstborn (there’s that again) child of every family would die, unless they covered the frames of their doorways with the blood of an animal sacrifice.  That blood was the sign to God’s angel that the house was to be passed over and the firstborn inside would be saved.  All the people of Israel performed the sacrifice, used the blood to mark their doorways, and they were saved.  The Egyptians did not do this, however, and their firstborn died, leading the Egyptian king Pharaoh to finally allow Moses to lead Israel to freedom.  So the people of Israel gathered their belongings quickly, and left, beginning the long journey toward the Promised Land.

If you look through the description of the holiday in Deuteronomy 16, you see that God wants his people every year to re-enact what happened during the original Passover.  Of course it is not a total re-enactment, but there are elements of the celebration that remind them of the original story.

See how they enter into the drama and story of the event?  Every part of it is an act of remembering, as he says in verse 3.

We did this a few years ago when we had a Passover Seder dinner here.  It was so great to hear the story of Passover from a Messianic Jew, and learn of all the connections between Israel’s deliverance from slavery and the whole world’s deliverance from sin in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we see about God’s heart for the holidays, then, is that he wants his people to remember, and he wants them to practice remembering on a regular basis. 

In part 3 of this series we’ll look at the two other feasts mentioned in Deuteronomy 16, and as we study those feasts, we’ll continue to learn about God’s heart for the holidays.