Friday, December 19, 2014

Established and Imposed

It's one of most celebrated stories of the Bible. It has been dramatized in songs, in books, and even by Hollywood. Some were so moved that they created a holiday to memorialize this miracle forevermore. To mark this holiday, many people exchange presents and bestow gifts upon the poor. While some find aspects of the observance to be controversial, others cherish their traditions fondly. Today, let's turn to the scriptures that detail this miracle. Please open your Bible to the book of Esther.

Wait, what did you think I was talking about?

So anyway, on to the story of Esther. We all know it. Esther is chosen queen. Haman's hatred for Mordecai flares and he tricks the king into issuing an edict to exterminate the Jews. The Jews fast, Esther goes to the king, and Haman ends up hanging on the gallows he built for Mordecai's execution.

But then there's this:
"The Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time..."
- Esther 9:27
So basically, the Jews created Purim to celebrate their deliverance through God's miraculous intervention. It wasn't commanded in the Sinai Covenant, but they decided to create a celebration to remember the miracle. To be more exact, they "established and imposed it upon themselves." They feasted. They even exchanged gifts with one another and also gave them to the poor.
"as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor."
-Esther 9: 22
God inspired this to be recorded in His holy scriptures, every word of which was "given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3: 16). After all, every good gift is from God (James 1: 17).

Many believe Purim is the feast for which Jesus traveled to Jerusalem in John 5:1. And we know for sure that Jesus was at the temple for the Festival of Dedication, better known today as Hanukkah. Which was also absent from the Sinai Covenant. The miracle honored by Hanukkah doesn't even appear in the canonized Bible. If lighting candles, feasting and exchanging gifts on days not proscribed by the Sinai Covenant are a problem, someone forgot to tell Mordecai and the Maccabees.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. If Jews were within their rights to create annual celebrations commemorating miracles, why can't Christians do the same?

Celebrating holidays and exchanging gifts is soundly condemned by the Churches of God as unbiblical. Seeing that it is in every way biblical, we respectfully disagree. Why do they claim it is unbiblical? We suspect it is mainly because they have blown the dust off of their favorite proof-texts, but not their entire Bible.

In addition to holidays and gift-giving, God also lists the use of statues in His worship (EXO. 25: 17-19), garland, bells and fruit (EXO. 28: 33-34; 39: 25-26; II COR. 3: 16), lights, flowers and ornamentation (EXO. 25: 31-37), greenery (LEV. 23: 40; NEH. 8: 13-15), and other things I could list but won't.

All of these things are used at Christmas, yet they are condemned by the COGs. Yet most of these things are used by the COGs at various times in the year. Is this a double-standard? It would appear they are only condemned at Christmas. Why? These things are condemned because they are associated with Christmas, but at the same time Christmas is condemned because it is associated with these things. Is this circular reasoning?

Over the years, As Bereans Did has done some great research on Christmas. Like "The Plain Truth About December 25th" which makes the case about why the December 25th date likely did not originate in paganism after all. "Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees" which makes the case on why Jeremiah was referring to idol worship, not Christmas trees. "On Nimrod and Christmas Trees" part 1, part 2 and part 3, which make the case on how the origin of Christmas Trees has been distorted. "Nimrod's Birthday Was January 6?" which makes the case that the claims on Nimrod's birthday are faulty. And "Quotes Before Christmas" which makes the case that most of the claims the COGs make about Christmas' pagan origins are based on questionable research. And we haven't even found the time to explain how winter was a great time of year for sheep to be in the fields of Bethlehem (see point 5 of the linked article). Perhaps you've heard of this thing called "wool." It keeps sheep warm even when wet. They say some people actually shear it off sheep and use it to make clothing for themselves to insulate against cold temperatures. Sounds crazy, I know.

If you're to the point where your strongest remaining argument is that we're not sure that December 25th is the actual date of Christ's birth, then maybe it's time to admit that Christmas might not be the wisest choice for Custer's Last Stand. And you also may need a refresher on the accuracy and troubled history of the Hebrew calendar.

So if the Jews' deliverance at Purim was worth celebrating, how much more should we celebrate the birth of our Savior, which made a way for all mankind to be delivered? The Jews celebrate God's intervention in human affairs at Purim. How much more important is Christ's actual entrance into the world? I know it isn't commanded. Neither were Hanukkah or Purim. Yet humans were so moved by God's miraculous intervention that they "established and imposed" a holiday honoring God and remembering what He did for them. And God honored that. Jesus' birth was the second greatest miracle of all time, and facilitated the biggest miracle of all time. If you're not moved by the fact that God divested Himself of His glory, humbled Himself to be born as a baby whose sole purpose in life was to live and die to pay for your sins, then, well, maybe you should ask yourself why.

With all that out of the way, if you're still with me, let's turn to the book of Luke. I'm just going to quote scripture. No Santa, no mistletoe, no logs, no gifts. Just the Bible. If it really makes you uncomfortable, come back here in March or September or something.
"So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city  of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' 
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.' 

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 
Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them." - Luke 2:6-20
There? Was that so bad? I mean, I know it lacks the intrigue and suspense of Esther's story. Death and destruction are noticeably absent, unlike the Purim account, in which more than 75,000 people lost their lives between Esther 8:7 and 9:16. Although blood does become significant later on in the story. But it's still inspiring. It has a certain element of joy and peace that Esther lacks. All in all, it's still a good read, and it's at least as good of a reason to celebrate. You know, like scores of angels did.

There is no wrong day to tell this story. December 25th is not the wrong day to proclaim the good news of the coming of our Savior. It is our commission as Christ-followers to share the story of Jesus. The beginning is a great place to start.

God bless, and have a Christ-centered merry Christmas!

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

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