In thinking of holidays we have to separate the modern usage of the word with its original definition. In 1828 in Webster’s original dictionary “Holiday” was defined as, “Holy Day”. Today we have modern definitions like, “a special day of celebration” and “a day when most people do not have to work”. In our secular world “holiness” is not usually a factor for taking time to celebrate. There is nothing wrong with gathering with family and friends for fellowship and food and times of celebration. However, if we make those events devoid of God, we probably shouldn’t use the term “Holiday”.
As we learned in our study of the fourth commandment, the church has one holy day in which we are commanded to participate. We are commanded to give one day in seven to the Lord our God to worship him. That is what is expected of us from Scripture. If we place more emphasis on these once a year celebrations than we do on the 52 Sundays where we gather with the Saints of God to worship, then we have elevated man-made events over God ordained events.
Does that mean we should not give thanks to God in November? Of course not. Does that mean we should not celebrate the incarnation in December? No. What about thanking God for new beginnings in January? Yes, we can do that. Or remembering the resurrection in the spring? Sure, that is fine to do.
We know there are believers who may not desire to celebrate some of these “holidays” and that these are not tests of fellowship among Christians. We do not bind anyone’s conscience to force anyone to attend a Thanksgiving service or Christmas Eve service.
Looking toward the end of the year, we often view the holidays as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Probably because they are so close together in time. After spending most of the year studying the Ten Commandments, I want to share some ways we can better celebrate the holidays in light of God’s Word.
The summary of the ten commandments as given by Christ states that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. As we think of these events leading up to the end of the year, how can we better love God and love our neighbor?
—The First Commandment……. No other gods. We, if we choose to celebrate, should strive to put some holiness back into what we would call holidays. Is the focus of Thanksgiving actually giving thanks? Is the focus of Christmas more about gifts and decorations than about the incarnation of Christ? Is the focus of New Years a time to party rather than giving thanks for another year of life and prayerfully looking ahead to 2017?
—The Second Commandment….. No idols. We struggle when it comes to Christmas and nativity scenes. The second commandment prohibits any physical representations of any member of the Trinity. In looking at the history of the early church and according to all of the creeds and confessions that came out of the Reformation there is a universal prohibition against images of Jesus based on this second commandment. It is only in recent times has there been a more gradual acceptance of them. We are inconsistent if we would reject using a crucifix in a celebration of Easter, but then use nativity scenes, movies, art and children’s books depicting false representations of Christ. David M. VanDrunen, an OP minister wrote a great article in the December 2006 New Horizons titled, “Celebrating Jesus’ Birth — Without His Picture” I encourage you to read his article: http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=438
—The Third Commandment…. God’s name. We have to be careful in how we represent God or more importantly, not to misrepresent Him. Do we honor His name, His character, His attributes in our celebrations? Do we elevate His name? Or are our celebrations more about us than Him? There is nothing wrong with celebrating a birthday and having a party, but when we claim that a celebration has a religious basis to it, like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter we need to be careful not to add just a little bit of God to our celebrations.
—The Fourth Commandment …. God’s Day. We need to make sure it is the priority on our calendars. One question for parents: Do your children look more forward to Christmas or their birthdays then they do to Sunday? As I examine my own life, I know that I will pass on to my children what I value as most important. If they don’t see the Lord’s Day as important to mom and dad then it will never be so for them. I can honestly say that while I enjoy my birthday and I enjoy Christmas, the opportunity to worship every Sunday is so much more important to me. In many other celebrations I often focus on me or my enjoyments, on Sunday I am reminded of not only my sinfulness, but the one who died that I could be set free from sin and spend eternity with God.
—The Fifth Commandment…. Authority issues. How do we love others in our holiday celebrations? I hope you are not thinking as you read this, “your not the boss of me to tell me how to celebrate or not celebrate holidays.” We all have authority issues. It is so easy for us to avoid questioning traditions or deeply held thoughts.
—The Sixth Commandment… Life. Are there ways in celebrating that I can preserve and honor life?
—The Seventh Commandment… Purity. Are there ways to honor and value marriage and family? Holidays often revolve around family.
—The Eighth Commandment…. Theft. Am I jealous how others celebrate? Their affluence? Do I go into debt to buy Christmas presents or stay within my means? It is fine to have a feast, but at Thanksgiving am I prone to gluttony? There are many ways being a good steward affects how I view and how I celebrate the holidays.
My purpose today is not to exhaust the application of the Ten Commandments, but to simply get us thinking at how we apply the Law of God to our celebrating. Every year I ought to evaluate how I celebrate holidays and the reasons behind my actions. I also want to remind you of some opportunities to fellowship and enjoy the body of Christ as we move to the end of the year.
Here is a list of special services and opportunities that are upcoming:
Wednesday November 23, at 7PM — Thanksgiving Service at the Church Building
Thursday December 22, at 7PM — Caroling. We will meet at the Church Building.
(an opportunity to show some love to our neighbors as we sing of Christ’s Birth)
Saturday December 24, 6PM — Christmas Eve Service. Please note the 6PM time.
And we are blessed that December 25th comes on a Sunday this year and we have two opportunities to worship on this Lord’s Day when many in our world still pause and give some recognition to the incarnation of Christ.