Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Reason for the Season

"Do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you." Deuteronomy 6:14

"You must not worship the LORD your God in their way." Deuteronomy 12:4

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." Romans 12:2

I have been struggling within myself whether to share this with others unsolicited. My family has already made a decision, and it has not been our desire to coerce others into the same decision. This is a big topic and one to be addressed delicately, but plainly. I pray the LORD would direct you in the way He has called, to walk the narrow path of his salvation. I know the God of the heavens will bring to completion the work of sanctification He has begun in you.

The Bible is very specific that the punishment God brings on the people of Israel is because they prostituted themselves to other gods rather than worshiping Him in the way He prescribes. They continuously turned away from Him to other gods and the gods of the people driven out before them as they entered the land. They violated the covenant God made with them that He would be their God and they would be his people.

An issue of Biblical Archeology Review last year (Volume 35, #4/5) featured an article of their "Top Ten Discoveries: Favorite Finds throughout the Years." Number 5 was the discovery of shards of a clay pot from northern Israel dating to the time of the biblical divided kingdom. It depicted several drawings of "gods" which would be characteristic of the idol worship the Bible describes occurring in Israel at the time. The interesting fact concerning the pottery is it attributes the image to "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah." The article interprets this find as showing the "Yahwistic faith" of the Israelites was not as "monolithic" as depicted in the Bible. That analysis is from a secular perspective. The Bible condemns Israel for worshiping Baal and Asherah. In the synthesis of the two perspectives we can see the people believed they were worshiping the God of their fathers, while God did not accept such worship and instead called it Baal worship. Thus, in two ways the people of Israel disobeyed the word of God. One, they worshiped the gods of the people around them. Two, they did so while attributing the worship to the LORD their God.

So, what is my purpose in writing? For thousands of years people have celebrated the annual rebirth of their god at or near the beginning of winter. They celebrated this god's consort and their conjugation at or near the beginning of spring and then mourned the annual death of the God at or near the beginning of autumn. This god had various names in various religious systems, and likewise the festivals had different names. Respectively, the three holidays are Saturnalia, Easter, and Samhain. Currently they are known as Christmas, Easter and Hallowe'en.

When the Roman church came to prominence, these holidays were incorporated into the Christian calendar in an effort to make Christianity more palatable to the masses. The holiday which celebrated the birth of this pagan deity was attributed to Jesus. Easter was attributed to Jesus' resurrection because of the holiday's proximity to Passover. To counteract the festival of Samhain, the church introduced All Saint's Day the day following. This accounts for the name change first to All Hallow's (Saint's ) Evening, then shortened to Hallowe'en. As one might expect All Saint's Day is virtually nonexistent. Here we have the church abdicating its responsibility to spread the good news of the true God and instead simply attributing pagan worship to the God of creation, much as the Israelites had done before them.

Even before Jesus' birth, Christmas was celebrated as it is today. People decorate their homes with evergreen, place candles in their windows, and travel between homes singing joyous songs, giving gifts to each other, having merry parties, and remembering the birth of their beloved god. Within Christendom, these things have been attributed to Jesus and the nativity. The Christmas tree, which has always been worshiped within paganism is still the focal point of most people's celebrations, but is now a "symbol" of the tree upon which Jesus was crucified. We place candles in the windows and lights on our houses to commemorate the light of the world coming into the world, but the pagans did (and do) the same things. Gifts are given as they always have, but now it is a sign of the gifts the Magi brought. Each pagan tradition is drawn into the body of Christ. The presents, the decorations, the get-togethers, and the food which seem so easily to become the focal point of the holiday and promote materialism and strife are, in fact, "the reason for the season." They were the reason before Jesus and continue to be today.

Pagan traditions are immortalized in the church and attributed to the true God in oppostion to God's clear mandate not to conform to the ways of the world (Romans 12:2), and we usually excuse it because of one passage in Colossians (2:16) encouraging believers not to be forced into observing the biblical feasts. Does this verse permit pagan worshiping festivals to be attributed to God? Not apparently, but it is often used as such permission.

I rejoice in the commemoration of Jesus' birth and celebrate it even as the angels did, and proclaim that birth in the light of the good news of his coming kingdom. It was a joyous occasion and should continue to be so. However, this does not excuse folding paganism into the body of Christ. Celebration of Jesus' birth and celebrating Christmas are not synonymous. While the Bible makes no statement as to the time of year Jesus was born, placing that celebration at the same time as the ages old winter solstice celebration seems to be a clear invitation for it to be corrupted. Given the mass campaigns believers launch annually to attempt to maintain the illusion of the Messiah as the centerpiece of this pagan celebration, it seems apparent corruption is exactly what has occurred. Every year believers seem to look forward with great anticipation the Christmas season. and likewise welcome the end of the frantic pace and wearisome after-effects of its visitation. Is this then the peace Jesus promised to give us? Is it truly the joy which comes from knowing the salvation of restoration and rest prophesied from the beginning?

The path I took to this point has been a long one. Over time, however, I have begun to realize these celebrations may not be as benign as I had once thought. I used to view Colossians 2:16 as a permissive which allowed any celebration to be honored as long as it was given to God. I even had moved myself from a desire to have a tree as a focal point of the celebration to a nativity scene. Recently, I saw how even this blatantly rebels against the second commandment, and how subtle wickedness can slip into ones worship when that worship was never meant to be holy. I am not here to pass judgments on pagan celebrations. I believe strongly pagans should be allowed to continue in them, but we are to be set apart and shine the Light into the darkness of demon worship. Is that really possible when we look like they do?

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