What Is It All About?
Have you ever noticed how the world takes "our stuff" away from us? What do we celebrate on December 25? Christmas, right? But what is Christmas? Is it Santa and candy and gifts? Hallmark Network tells us it is a time of sharing and caring and family. How did Jesus get 'hoovered' out of the holiday? Even most Christmas cards have forgotten the "good news of great joy which shall be for all the people."
In March or April we celebrate the greatest story ever told, the most amazing events in human history: a bunny rabbit that lays candy eggs?
What happened on June 25th? March 25th? What do we celebrate on October 31st?
Now I would guess that most of you have learned that October 31st is Reformation Day. The majority of the English speaking world calls that day "Halloween" without much of an idea why. It is just the day of pumpkins and ghosts and witches and candy, lots of candy! And Trick or Treating. Even if you are not Lutheran, the day should be pointing towards the commemoration of those who have gone before us in the faith and are now with our Lord - All Saints Day (All Hallows, of which October 31 is the Eve - or 'een'), November 1.
This "Hoovering," (named after the vacuum cleaner) happens for two reasons; first, the world hates us and the Christian faith, and second, Christians are easily bored.
For some reason, people feel the need to sell our holidays to people who do not believe. It is nice that the world around us wants to celebrate on December 25. It gives us Christians the day off for worship and thanksgiving. But they do not celebrate what we celebrate because they cannot! They cannot celebrate the Son of God come in the flesh for our salvation because they do not believe that Jesus did that, or that He is the Son of God, or that there really is a God, and if they think there might be a god, they have no idea who He is or what He is about or what He wants for us or from us. They may be able to articulate parts of our theology, but they don't believe it and cannot truly understand it because they need the Holy Spirit and faith to understand it. At least that is what God says in the Bible.
Christians have been guilty of trying to make their somber religious holidays more fun for themselves and their children. That suggests that they do not truly appreciate what we celebrate, and may not really believe it all that much themselves.
Halloween is a good illustration of that principle. Aside from the Reformation, it is not really much of a holiday. It is the night before the Church pauses to remember and praise God for all those who have gone before us in the faith, especially those who have gone before us in the last year. For Immanuel in the last year that would include Elliott Jares and maybe Marvin Runyan in September 2020, if we expanded our year enough (to 14 months) to include the last two names.
The world has no idea how to use a holiday like All Saints Day, so the silly superstition about the day gave it a way to lead away from the faith. Because All Saints Day is about God's holy people, it was re-imagined into "the holiest day of the year." Then, the night before became the mythical night when evil was at its strongest, only to be reigned in again by "All Hallows." So ghosts and goblins and witches became the possessors of the night. A superstitious society and a church full of people who could not read and had to rely on word of mouth spread the fear (and the fun) like wildfire - much like the Covid misreporting has spread fear and anger in our day.
So, in the Medieval western world, Halloween became something other than just the day before and took on its own meaning. The coincidence of Luther nailing the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on that day gave us Lutherans another way to look at the day. By our age, Halloween is seen by most as a farce and a candy day, although the practitioners of the Black Arts still honor the day in some places. Nonetheless, Christians do well to remember what the day, and the next day, is all about and do not honor the occult.
In general, we would make a clearer and more consistent witness to the faith and our hope of salvation if we stubbornly refused to let anyone empty our special days of their true significance. So what if the unbeliever does not find meaning in our holidays? We don't celebrate for them. We celebrate to remember the great truths of the Gospel and the great events that formed and fill our faith. We tell the story to one another to remember and rejoice together. Outsiders are welcome to listen and perhaps come to faith, but once we have clearly spoken the truth of the Gospel, using God's Word, whether they believe or not is between them and God. We cannot afford to "dumb it down" for them or their amusement. The danger is too real and the blessings of the promises of God are just too wonderful.
We need the holidays - note they changed that too, not "holy days" but "holidays" - for our own enrichment and rehearsing of the great truths of the Gospel. We need to remember the miracle of the Incarnation - December 25 - which is coupled with the annunciation - March 25, when Mary heard the good news and believed the angel. We need the truths of Easter repeated and celebrated, rabbit or no. We Lutherans need to remember that on June 25, 1530, Lutheran Laymen (and not the pastors) presented the Augsburg Confession before the Emperor at Augsburg to remember when God restored the pure Gospel to His Church.
And Halloween reminds us both of the great events of the Reformation, starting on October 31, sort of, and of the many who have gone before us in faith - parents, relatives, teachers, and friends. Many people think it is too much to pay attention to. For us it is a rehearsal of the faith, and I for one am not willing to let the world around me rob me of our holidays. Hopefully, you are not willing to let the world rob you either.
Yours in the Lord,
Sunday, September 26, 2021
What is it All About