Tag Archives: feasts

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!

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.

Giving our firsts to God [God’s heart for the holidays, part 1]

5 Nov
Photo by Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash

In your mind, can you recite the cycle of national holidays that tell the story of America. Get out a piece of paper, or start typing in a document.  See if you can list out our holidays.  Here’s a hint: where do you think we should start?  July 4th, of course!  There would be no America without it.  Independence Day!  Now see if you can work your way around the calendar.  What comes after July 4th? Don’t peek below!  List your guesses, then come back here and see how you did.

Ready to check your work?  After July 4th, the next American holiday is Labor Day and then we have Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving.  A couple months later we observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, then Presidents Day, and finally, Memorial Day.

How did you do?  Get them all?  Include some that I didn’t?  We’ll get to that just below.  For now, look at the holidays I listed.  Think about how these holidays describe the major events in the history of our nation. Every year, then, we have regular markers to help us remember our American story. Of course we could throw a few more in there such as Flag Day and Emancipation Day, which are not considered official federal holidays, but definitely point to important elements of our national story.  In more recent decades, we could point to D-Day and 9/11, which continue to tell that story.

But as I said above, there are a bunch of holidays I skipped!  I didn’t include them because those holidays have nothing to do with America. Instead they are holidays that could be celebrated around the world.  New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, and the biggest holiday of them all, Christmas.  Even these non-American holidays are important to us because of their meaning.

So let’s step back a bit, and think: What do all these holidays tell us?  Humans are a people who love to remember and celebrate. We love to mark birthdays and anniversaries.  My congregation, Faith Church, for example, just had a wonderful celebration of our 50th anniversary.

As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we are going to see that God also loves to celebrate special days, embedding special days into the covenant law that he had with Israel.  I encourage to open a Bible as you keep reading this post.  Turn to Deuteronomy 15:19.  In this series of posts, we’re going to study Deuteronomy 15:19 through 16:17, and it is all about holidays. Just as our American holidays tell the story of America, so Israel’s holidays tell the story of their nation.

In Deut. 15:19, notice that God doesn’t start with holidays.  Instead he starts with some instructions that will apply to the celebratory ritual included in many of Israel’s holidays and feasts, the ritual of sacrificing to God. Go ahead and read 15:19-23. Did you notice that this section is basically saying that firstborn animals are to be set aside for sacrifice.

If you have children, think about the birth of your first.  How did it feel?  My guess is that it was a day of extreme emotion.  There is a major excitement about the first of anything.  Not just the birth of children, but also your first day on the job, your first time playing on a sports team, or your first time volunteering at school or at church. You’re more nervous, more emotional, and more intense about it, because is new, just like a firstborn.

Let’s be clear, firstborns are not more special than other kids.  They are just new, they’re first, and we parents of firstborns have no idea what we’re doing, so we feel more emotional about them.  Every single step along the way is a first for the firstborn, and it is a first for their parents.  We’ve walked through the emotional firsts of the first day of kindergarten, then middle school, dances, sports, high school, driving, dating, college…and a couple months ago my wife and I experienced another first with when our firstborn got engaged! What a joyful, exciting first that has been!

But travel back with me to the moment of the birth of the firstborn.  When a first child is born, in the midst of that intense emotion, the temptation is to think, “I did that, I own that, I created that, and it is mine.” 

But what does God say to Israel?  “Dedicate the firstborn to me.” 

He isn’t talking about children, by the way.  He is talking about animals.  “Set the firstborn animals apart,” he says, “and don’t work them in the fields, but reserve them for sacrifices to the Lord during the holiday, at which time you will eat them in the presence of the Lord.”  This means Israel was to have an attitude of giving back to the Lord first.  They were not to see themselves as the creator or owner of their firstborn animals.  They were to see God as the provider, God as the one who was responsible for the blessing of a firstborn. Thus they release that firstborn to God.

We can carry this principle over to the church.  We Christians are people who give God our firsts, and not just in finances, but also in our time, in our gifts and abilities.  We see his Kingdom as the priority, because he is the foundation and the cause of all the blessings we have.  We are simply stewards, or managers, or what God owns.

Paul talked about this in 1 Cor. 10:31,when he said, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God.”  How are you doing with living to the glory of God?  How are you doing seeing yourself as a steward?  Or do you have a too-tight hold on your life, on your children, on your possessions, on your time, on your talents? 

Check back in tomorrow as we begin to look at the special holidays God proclaimed for Israel, how sacrificing the firstborn occurred on a holiday, and how Christians can learn some important principles from Deuteronomy 15 and 16.