How do we celebrate God today? Our big celebrations are Christmas and Easter. We usually enjoy good food, good wine, and good company during these seasons. Today we rethink what it means to celebrate God by looking at the festivals of the Old Testament…
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.
The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread
Offering the Firstfruits
The Festival of Weeks
The Festival of Trumpets
The Day of Atonement
The Festival of Tabernacles
3 “‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.
6 for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. 7 On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 8 For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’”
9 The Lord said to Moses, 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. 11 He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.
29 Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. 30 I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. 31 You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. 32 It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”
44 So Moses announced to the Israelites the appointed festivals of the Lord.
Reading through the description of the festivals, I am struck by the pattern which emerges from the details. Typically, God’s people were instructed to modify their diets, rest from work, and make offerings to God.
We can imagine how this would focus our hearts and minds. If you have ever given up a food for Lent, you will understand how hard it is and what a great reminder it is of why you are practicing the celebration. Offerings to God are similar in their impact, yet we probably don’t understand this like Israel did.
Let’s see if we can get into their mindset. The offering God’s people had to give during these festivals was the first, the best, and the unblemished. The choicest part of the harvest or flock, which was likely the most important in terms of reproducing and growing the flock, was used as part of the celebration of God.
There is a sacrifice in these offerings.
When we think about offering (for the poor or needy at special holidays), we often give what is reasonable and what fits the budget. Imagine offering your savings for that boat or new automobile you desire. Imagine offering the funds you would use for new clothes for back-to-school. Now we’re in the neighbourhood.
The idea of resting from work is much easier for us to understand and commit to in our celebration of God. Miss work? Done. Is there a game on? Double bonus. I think we’re missing something here. Notice that when God speaks of resting from work, he says, “Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people,” (verse 29).
The rest from work in their time was viewed as self-denial. Why would that be? Why would God have to convince people or keep reminding people to rest from their work? It appears that resting from their work was a threat to their livelihood in which the people would have had to rely on God to provide for them. This is more akin to asking us to take a day without pay. This is asking the small business owner to close shop on the busy shopping day. This isn’t about 7 layer dip and the big game.
How do we celebrate God today? I typically celebrate God with good food, good wine, and good company. And maybe it’s time to rethink what it means to celebrate God…