One of the aspects I’ve loved about sojourning with Jews is having the Bible come to life in my own. “God’s appointed times” are observed / celebrated in my home, from the weekly Shabbat to Passover and Sukkot. But more on that later.
All of the “special days” in Christianity were created long after Jesus and the Apostles lived, and one is hard-pressed to emulate the “Biblical” Christmas or Easter.
For example, we’re not told if Mary and Joseph wrestled with the age-old problem of how to apply tinsel to the tree. Did Mary go all Martha Stewart and place it on the branches one piece at a time, or did she stand back and throw it? (I always started out placing, and ended up throwing! ) Did they use fake or real grass in their Easter baskets? Did James, the chief rabbi of the Jerusalem assembly, organize big Easter egg hunts on the Temple mount?
Somehow, I can’t picture it.
Unsettling as it is to realize, Christian holidays are all appropriated from ancient pagan festivals and holidays. Lately, there’s no shortage of vociferous Christians decrying this fact. Understandably, they’re upset with the system that on one hand promotes the “Biblical”, yet on the other hand only celebrates holidays created from pagan rites and rituals, all the while turning it’s nose up to the “Jewish” holidays, because, well, they’re so Jewish–even though they are, save for Purim and Hanukkah, called “God’s appointed times” in the, umm…Bible.
Another Side To The Story
I remember being very moved while visiting Rome, despite a hilarious–yet gross–run-in with a disgusting “Roman Guard” as my daughter and I exited the Colosseo in Rome. In my preparatory study for our Italy trip I read up on the House of Medici (political family, and famous for their banks) because Lorenzo– il Magnifico– was the patron of so much of the astoundingly gorgeous Renaissance art I planned for us to encounter. And of course I wanted to connect with what early Christians experienced there. Along the way I learned that despite the dangers and huge risk, Jesus was being followed in Rome within 12 years of his resurrection. And although I’m not Catholic, nonetheless I wanted to “feel” the ancient past of our Christian predecessors.
Standing in (or near) the forum and looking at the memorial where the dead body of Julius Caesar was burned after Mark Antony famously said he came “To bury Caesar, not to praise him”, I could simply pivot and see what’s left of the House of the Vestal Virgins, the huge ruins of the insane Emperor Caligula’s Palace, the Temples of Venus and Roma, Saturn, Mars, and many ancient forums and basilicas. Going full circle, I looked back at the Colosseo where the death of countless animals and people, including Christians, entertained the masses until a supposedly Christian Emperor (Constantine) and the rise of Christianity, put a stop to the bloody displays.
Cutting Some Slack
So, seriously, what should we expect to find with an ancient pagan population who was secretly learning about this strange (and dangerous) thing called monotheism? The Jews, who already knew about God via direct interaction and revelation, had the edge, not only because they literally had His revelation within their own lived, written, and oral history, but because they knew first hand what He thought about paganism, idolatry, injustice, sexual immorality and so on. They had access to their scriptures and how to understand them, and the Romans coming out of paganism didn’t.
Jews had a legal right to not engage in emperor worship, however, once the Christians and Jews divorced, the Christians had no such protection under Roman law, and were risking their lives to refuse to worship the supposedly divine emperor. There was terrible bloodshed and suffering for these early Christians.
I can cut them some slack because they didn’t know any better, and God is merciful and had given so much time for us to learn. My two biggest objections are:
- The arrogance displayed against all things Jewish, especially when those “things” only exist because they were being obedient to God!
- The refusal to humble ourselves and begin to learn about “God’s Appointed Times.”
Wednesday night (Sept 18) is the first night of Sukkot this year, and I always look forward to my husband building the Sukkah so we can decorate it, eat in it, sleep in it, and entertain guests in it. This temporary shelter is a remembrance of how God provides for His people. He did it in the Exodus story where He fed them with manna and He has, despite all the powers of hell that have come against the Jewish people over the past centuries, kept this people– the most hated of all– alive and recognizable, even into the year 2013.
Part of Sukkot hospitality is to welcome guests into it (and you just never know who will show up at your Sukkah, like this guest of ours!) in addition to welcoming one of the “royal guests” each night, and remember the attributes each represented:
Most Christians don’t know it, but Sukkot will be celebrated by all people in the future. That’s right, this “Jewish thing” will be mandatory some day!
This year I’m not sure how much Sukkot-ing I’ll do, as I’ve had a headache that simply will not stop for well over a week now. I await word from the hospital as to when to come for an MRI and I feel pretty nauseous, so I’m not up to entertaining. On top of that, my mother has suffered a minor stroke and I’m quite concerned about her. But still, I like having it up, and I’ll no doubt go take a snooze out under the branches and contemplate God’s love, mercy, and might, and how He has provided for me too, in more ways than I can count.
If you’d like to know more about Sukkot, I recommend a movie for you called “Ushpizin.”