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High Holidays and Obscured Holy Days

Holy days are important in the life of any faith tradition. They are essential to asserting and maintaining faith identity.

That’s why Muslim, Jewish and Hindu worshipers were angry a few years back. Southern Baptist leaders encouraged their constituents to seek converts from among these three faith traditions during the celebration of their highest holy days.

At a time when members of these traditions were most involved in reflecting upon their identity, Christians were encouraging them to forsake their traditions and embrace Christianity.

What would be the reaction if some group began questioning Jesus’ birth, and used the Christmas season to launch their attacks? Or what would happen if some competing religion began to express doubts about the resurrection, and distributed literature making their case around Easter time?

The shout of protest would be heard around the world!

But it would be a hollow protest. It is a sad fact to note, but many Christian holy days have come to exist as mere holidays. As the comic strip character Pogo put it, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” In other words, we have done far more harm to ourselves through the neglect of our holy days than any adversary could ever do.

Take Halloween, for example. What was once a profound effort on the part of Christians to reflect on the meaning of death, evil and redemption, has now become a marketing ploy to sell candy, costumes and mischief.  In fact, there is such a disconnect with this holiday that many Christians have no idea it was ever one of ours.

A similar process is at work with Christmas. What was intended as a time of serious reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ birth, has now become an exhibition of compulsive spending. The simple idea of giving gifts to symbolize the greatest of gifts has been distorted into frenzied shopping that does not seem to have any purpose beyond the acquisition of things.

This distortion of holy days is a serious loss for Christians. We have given up a crucial ingredient needed to maintain our identity and purpose. The Christian faith, as is true for all faiths, exists in a world all too willing to take what we love and empty it of its beauty. And once it has been emptied, we begin to feel that emptiness in ourselves. Much of the anger and angst which marks the Christian faith these days is the result of this emptiness.

This is frustrating on many levels. Some Christians are eager, even belligerent, about having their faith acknowledged in public places.  hey spend enormous amounts of energy trying to display pieces of Scripture or various religious symbols here and there just to have them seen. But then they fail to maintain their own holy days! They take these priceless opportunities to witness to their faith and give them over to the ravages of the marketplace as if they didn’t mean a thing.

It does not have to be this way. We can reclaim the meaning of our special days and in doing so reclaim our proper identity as a worshiping people. In the faithful celebration of our Holy Days we can renew our commitment to our authentic purpose as a community of faith.

We will soon enter the season of Lent and Easter. This is the highest of all Christian holy days. Unfortunately, the same process that has eviscerated Halloween and is eating away at Christmas is also at work with Easter. Now would be a good time to take back that which we have foolishly given away.

Through the disciplines of Lent we can rediscover humility and forgiveness. Through the observance of Holy Week we can confront the reality of death and defeat. Through the celebration of Easter we can open ourselves to the hope of new life.

Armed with these resources from the traditions of our faith, we discover that we have an important word to speak to a world bent toward emptiness and despair. Out of the depths of our faith, a faith marked by profound holy days, we speak a word of authentic hope.

James Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.

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