Celebration, Not Obligation
The Holidays are the most difficult time of the year for many people. While we hear songs on the radio about sleigh bells and white Christmases we feel the pressure of planning this party or that family get-together, or of getting year-end business done and trying to figure out how to afford the gifts that the children want. Sometimes in the midst of all of the holly jolly stress of the season we just want to throw our hands up and give up. That is what the over-commercialization of this season has done for us.
We are not the first culture to have such holidays. Most societies from ancient to modern times have held festivals at different times of the year to commemorate the end of the harvest or the migration of local wildlife or the activity of their gods. Consider that Israel, who was a chosen people by God, were given instructions for celebrating various festivals throughout the year when they were given the Law. These festivals were great gatherings and feasts that would commemorate what God has done among them or what he is going to do.
Passover was the most important for the Jews in that it was a time of the year when they gathered and ate a meal in remembrance of what God had done in Egypt that led to their freedom and exodus. They would follow rituals prescribed to them such as eating bitter herbs and unleavened bread to commemorate the haste of that meal just before they left the land of their oppression. That festival has been carried out for thousands of years now to remind the Jews always of God’s faithfulness to their ancestors and his faithfulness to them now.
At first, celebrating Passover was not a chore for the people, but rather a joy. Over time, the legalism that infiltrated Jewish culture and turned what was meant to be a celebration of God’s faithfulness into a sad religious obligation. The people came to Jerusalem and bought animals for sacrifice and engaged in the feast because that is what they wee legally and socially required to do. In that progression, the point of the celebration was lost to many of the people.
Why do we celebrate Christmas other than to commemorate the first coming of our Lord? The Christ-mass is not about office parties, presents, cookies, sleigh bells, or, dare I say it, family. In sending his Son to take upon himself human flesh, God kept a promise that he had made to Eve, the patriarchs, and the prophets. When we gather together each year to celebrate Christmas, we are really participating in traditions that harken back to the Jewish festivals of old. As such, this should be a time of celebration and not of obligation. We can still buy gifts for our children or have parties with our friends, but we must always remember that the reason we celebrate is because God is faithful.
If this is a stressful time of year for you, I would encourage you to slow down and take comfort in the love and grace of our God, and remember what he has done.