As we approach the end of 2020, the pandemic has us re-examining how we should honor and celebrate the holidays, which I will refer to as holy days for added clarity.
In fact, for me, the greeting “Happy Holy Days” has never been about being politically correct. Rather, it is about acknowledging the sacredness of the occasions.
A holiday is a hallowed time that has been set aside by custom or law where normal activities, especially business, work and school, are suspended. It is expected that individuals will commemorate the sacred event which was birthed from a tradition of cultural or religious importance.
In fact, God instructs us to honor His holy day of the Sabbath as a weekly feast! Among the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-10 God says, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.”
We should appreciate the significance of the Sabbath as a weekly occurring holy day. God, Himself, honored it by His own action. Genesis 2:1-3, notes “When the heavens and the earth were completed, by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day, He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” This was the first holy day on record!
There are seven holy days or the Feasts of God which are important to Him. God provided directives on how He wants to be worshiped and what days we are to keep. Each merits its own discussion which is akin to a sermon series. Perhaps in the upcoming months, I can share more about these holy days which are the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of the First Fruits, the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of the Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of the Tabernacle.
They are intended to teach us about Him. These sacred feast days contain a wealth of significant history, important lessons and vital truths. These holy events were to impart history, deepen reflection and never forget what God had done. It remains critical to engage the young to pass onto other generations.
The Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, a respected theologian, once reflected that America really does not know how to give full honor to its holy day traditions. Other nation-states use the time set aside for intentional reflection and engagement of their customs. They also promote and encourage intergenerational interaction. Meanwhile, in America, we engage in robust consumerism hitting the stores to go shopping!
Think about it, even before the pandemic occurred, attendance at the once familiar Veterans' Day parades had embarrassingly dwindled. Yet folks will flood into stores to take advantage of the Veterans’ Day sales. Do you remember the time when everything shut down on Good Friday or Christmas Eve until the holy days ended? Have you ever noticed the plethora of big-ticket items like furniture, bedding or car sales on President's Day?
I am pretty sure neither George Washington nor Abraham Lincoln ever planned to lease a car. We need to spend more TIME, not more money, commemorating special days!
Now, with Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s and other holidays approaching, everyone is trying to figure out how to adjust for a meaningful —and admittedly unusual—holy day season.
I have always been disturbed that stores were open on Thanksgiving Day. The attitude "open and they will come" actually cheapens the holy day experiences. Imagine the disruptions of family gatherings and sparsely attended worship services while folks are encouraged SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!
The unspoken message implied is deals are more important than the time shared with each other.
This year major retail establishments have announced that the doors will be closed. This also allows the essential employees in the retail industry an opportunity to share the day with their families as well.
Meanwhile, large family gatherings for the upcoming holy days are discouraged to reduce the potential of spreading the virus. The essence of these occasions will undoubtedly take on greater meaning as we give thanks to God. Keep your plans simple and flexible, with an understanding that unforeseen circumstances may require changes on short notice.
Perhaps we should use these holy days for intimate and intentional reflection.
Let’s be clear, we do not have to wait until the third Thursday in November to give thanks! Indeed, EVERY DAY is a day of thanksgiving: Lord God, we thank You for the blessings of today and for our time together. We thank you for the wonderful fellowship among family and friends. Guide us toward a purpose greater than our individual ambitions. Help us to grow in care and love for each other. Make us mindful of those who have so much less than we have, those who are cold and hungry, sick or struggling in any way. Show us how to find ways to share with them all the blessings that You have showered on us. Help us to be grateful and generous people.
Normally, and admittedly these are not normal times, I conclude my thoughts of the column with an edict to “Keep the Faith.” However, I am departing from this tradition to share a thought from the acceptance message to America by President-elect Joe Biden. He recalled a frequent exchange with his grandparents, noting “Every time I’d walk out of my grandpa’s house up in Scranton, he’d yell ‘Joey, keep the faith’ and my grandma would say, “No, Joey, spread it!’”
In these trying times, honor the upcoming holy days with an abiding hope while spreading the faith.
— The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II serves as the lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, chaplain for the Youngstown Police Department and local coordinator for the African American Male Wellness Walk of the Mahoning Valley. He resides in Youngstown with Dorothy, his partner in marriage and ministry. They share the love and joy of six children and seven grandchildren.
— All biblical citations are New Living Translation unless noted otherwise