Shamar the Holidays 5

John 2:1-10

A common misconception is that Christians are dull and boring and that a life under God is a life of strict rules where fun is not allowed. But today’s reading is a story that goes against that belief. A little longer than usual, it is a story that many are familiar with.

Jesus is at a wedding when the wine runs out. The family, I am certain, was worried that the whole affair would become a disaster and a social embarrassment, but Jesus orders that water be poured into jars intended for ceremonial cleansing. And then the water is miraculously turned into wine.

But not just any wine. Look at verse 10. This wine is the best wine ever. It is special. Not only will the wedding move on without incident, it will be a memorable wedding.

The deeper meaning of all of this would fill pages and pages of analysis. The connection of wine to the sacrificial blood of Christ that we see at the Last Supper is evident. But the focus for today is that Jesus provided an opportunity for one of life’s celebrations to become special. The feast was protected. The ceremony was honored. The wedding could be celebrated – all because of Jesus. His miracle allowed everyone to shamar this special occasion.

And we see celebrations throughout the teachings of Christ. In Matthew he presents the parable of a great banquet. In Luke 15 we have the story of the prodigal son whose return is celebrated with a feast. We also see parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep, each ending with a celebration. In John 7 Jesus attends the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

I am not claiming that Jesus was the original party animal, but it is clear that Christ wants us to enjoy the holidays, Sabbaths and celebrations of life. He has come to give us life, and give it to the full. We are called to shamar our holidays and feast days because when we do we celebrate the goodness and love of God. We remember and honor God by celebrating His love and blessings.

Colossians 2:16-17 tells us that we should not let others judge us when we celebrate holidays. It says that these are a shadow of the things to come. Our best celebration, our most extravagant holiday, is just a small imitation of God’s glory and goodness – just a taste of what we can expect when we are gathered up in glory.

Let us shamar our holidays – honor them, protect them, celebrate them – knowing that our happiness and joy comes from God and that the fullness of all good things are found in our Lord Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you include God in your holidays?

Shamar the Holidays 4

John 10:7-10

Our children, like most, had some rules to follow at our house. Don’t go out in the street. Don’t go where I can’t see you. Stay away from the electric fence, and so on. These rules put limits and boundaries on our children, but they were not intended to be limits to their fun. Rather, these limits were meant to ensure good health and long life. Some people hate rules and can’t always see the benefits of the limitations.

Jesus has encountered some criticism and resistance to his teachings and healings (what else is new?) and so offers the response of today’s reading. To what does Jesus compare himself? To what does he compare the false teachers and leaders from before? What are the benefits (verse 9 and 10) to living within the confines of Christ?

Many non-believers criticize Christianity by claiming that it is a religion of restriction and criticism. What they misunderstand is that these erroneous attitudes are the wrong attitudes of some religious people, people who rob and steal the joy of life from others. They are not the true intent of God.

By his own words Jesus describes himself as the gate for the sheep. He is that entry point, that access, to a life that is filled with goodness and joy. Like a gate in a sheepfold, it is a passage from an unsafe place to a safe sanctuary.

By accepting Jesus as our Lord and Master, by living according to his teaching and by observing the commandments of God, we are brought from a life of emptiness and spiritual peril. We are brought into a new life, a life of God’s love, forgiveness and mercy.

And as we live within the confines of God’s laws, as we live within the walls and boundaries of life in Jesus – a life of faith and assurance, peace and kindness – we can enjoy the freedoms and goodness of that life. We can “come in and go out, and find pasture” – that is, we will have what we need.

The gift of salvation through Jesus and the gifts of life from God are not there to limit and restrict us. They are meant to give us freedom – freedom from fear and worry and sin and death. And with that freedom comes a fullness of life, an ability to celebrate our work time, our family time, our Sabbath time and our holidays, knowing we are a people forgiven and recipients of God’s goodness. Jesus has given us life, and life to the full, that we may celebrate the goodness of God in all we do.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Have you entered through the gate of our Savior? Is there someone you know who needs to be invited in as well?

Shamar the Holidays 3

Isaiah 58:13-14

Many years ago a co-worker taught me how to play the game of “Go” (Japanese for “Five”). It is a fairly simple game involving two players, one with white stones and one with black stones. The rules are few. And my friend pointed out that the rules are not intended to be restrictive, but are designed to make for a successful game. By following the rules you are more likely to do well.

In today’s passage the prophet Isaiah is delivering the word of God for the faithful believers about honoring the Sabbath. What cautions are presented in verse 13? What is the result?

In his ministry Jesus brought fullness to the lives of the people he touched. There were times when his acts of mercy and healing confounded those religious leaders who were strict legalists, especially when it came to observing the Sabbath. But in Mark 2:27 Jesus explains to his critics, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

In this statement is a comment on how we are to shamar, or honor, or celebrate the Sabbath. The Sabbath was intended by God to be a time to abstain from labor and toil, not as a restrictive measure, but as an opportunity to spend time celebrating God’s goodness. The Sabbath was not intended to shackle people, but was meant as a gift.

Isaiah reminds the faithful that we are to observe the Sabbath, not to break it. It is not intended as a wild time of revelry, but as an intentional time of remembering God and His faithfulness. It is a time to enjoy the goodness that God has provided. And, I would venture, that it is a time to share the goodness of God with others – the reverse of “doing as you please or speaking idle words.”

When we can take our holidays and our Sabbath times and use them as a time to honor and remember God by enjoying the gifts we have been given, then our festivals, feasts, holidays and Sabbaths will be times of wonderful goodness and joy. There is no sin in celebrating our holidays, provided we acknowledge God, the giver of all good things, as we enjoy them. We should also use our holidays and Sabbath times as a time to share God’s love.

By observing God’s commands, by honoring our holidays and Sabbaths with the attitude of gratefully acknowledging God, then we will be obedient children of God. He will indeed fill our lives with goodness and gladness, and we can truly “feast on the inheritance” that comes from our heavenly Father.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you share God’s love as you celebrate your holidays and Sabbath times?

Shamar the Holidays 2

Exodus 31:16-17

Many can still remember the days when stores and any other businesses were closed on Sundays. This was the Sabbath, the day of rest when commerce stopped, even if only for a day. But in our current society most Sundays are very similar to almost any other day of the week. We shop. We buy. We are busy.

But from early on God has given a command for a day of rest and celebration. What command is given in verse 16? What is the purpose?

We can claim that we should return to the old days when businesses closed on Sundays. We can claim that as a society we still should honor the Sabbath – in our case, Sunday – by abstaining from any type of labor. And there may be some truth in that, although technically the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week; in our case, Saturday.

Most would agree that the day of the week is not as important as the purpose of honoring the Sabbath. It is less important which day we rest. The point is that we should have at least one day a week where we stop our busy-ness and take some time to rest.

But we can still miss the point of it all. The Sabbath was not meant to simply be a day where we are prohibited from doing anything. In strict religious societies honoring the Sabbath means avoiding ANY work, including such small tasks as untying a cord or even breaking off toilet paper for use. With this attitude the Sabbath becomes less of a day of rest and honor to God and becomes more of day of restriction.

A key word in the passage is shamar – celebrate. We are to celebrate the Sabbath. Not only are we to take a break from the daily tasks of labor and business, but we are to use that time to honor God by spending time in communion with Him. We are also supposed to spend our time enjoying what God has given us, the abundance in our lives, the beauty of creation, the love of family and friends, the fellowship of others.

We are to take a Sabbath and protect that day as a day sacred to honoring God. We are to use that time to honor God by celebrating Him and all that He has given us.

The point is not to become a prisoner to rules and restrictions. The point is to be part of a celebration of God’s greatness, and to take pleasure in His great love and mercy. We should be certain we set aside a day a week to give God honor and to celebrate Him. We can do the same by observing our holidays, or festivals, and using that time to enjoy being a child of God, recipients of His goodness.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you honor God with your Sabbath time and your holidays?

Shamar the Holidays 1

Exodus 23:14-16

Although it may seem impossible, the Christmas holidays are quickly approaching. And with their approach can come the anxiety, confusion and frustration of these exhausting holidays. We can be anxious about all the work involved in getting ready. We can be confused about whether or not we are truly honoring God in our celebration. And we can feel frustrated by all the work that seems to rob us of the joy we should be feeling.

In this passage from Exodus we see God giving the command to celebrate festivals, or holidays. What are the three feasts? Who is to be honored at the festivals?

The Hebrew word used in this passage is shamar, which has several meanings. It means “celebrate,” as it is used here, but it can also mean “protect.” The third meaning is “observe,” as in “honor” or “keep the commandments.”

Blending these three meanings together we can see God’s attitude toward the feasts that He has decreed. He wants us to observe the festivals – that is, God wants to be certain we take time to be part of the festival. We are also to protect them. We are not to let them be ignored. And finally, we are to celebrate these festivals.

A common misconception of the Jewish faith is that all Jews are legalistic and strict. We often have the impression that the Jewish faith is nothing but a series of rules just waiting to be broken so we can be punished or feel guilty.

The same is true of Christianity. So many people believe that being a Christian means obeying strict laws that prohibit happiness or joy or laughter. There are those who think that Thanksgiving and Christmas have been so commercialized that real Christians should ignore them.

But neither view is accurate. God has decreed that holidays (feasts or festivals) should take place. He has decreed that we should observe these holidays, protect them by continuing to hold their observance; and He has decreed that we should celebrate. Shamar!

God has certain laws and decrees for life; that is true. But overall, God is love and God has created all things so that we might celebrate His love and mercy. He wants us to celebrate Him – shamar the Lord! – in our holidays.

As we enter into this holiday season, let us allow our fears and troubles to fall away. Let us truly celebrate God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How might you “protect” the Christmas holiday this year?