What Gives Order and Meaning to Your Life?
The LORD said to Moses, "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. These are the LORD's appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as official days for holy assembly."
Leviticus 23 outlines the major festivals that the Israelites are to celebrate every year. They include: the Sabbath (weekly), Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Weeks/Pentecost, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, Shelters (Booths, Tabernacles). (Other familiar festivals, such as Purim and Hanukkah, were added later in Jewish history.) As we would expect, Leviticus emphasizes the sacrifices associated with each of these festivals. They are indeed holidays (holy days). Some involve fasting and repentance (the Day of Atonement). Others include a whole week of celebration (Shelters, see 23:40).
The Sabbath, included in Leviticus 23 as a festival, gave order to the ordinary life of the Israelites: six days of work; one day of rest; six days of work; one day of rest. The annual festivals structured to their year, with focused celebrations of God's grace. In Passover, they remembered how he delivered them from Egypt. The harvest festivals acknowledged God's provision of food. The Day of Atonement signified divine forgiveness. The Festival of Shelters allowed the Israelites to re-enact the experience of the Exodus. The combination of weekly Sabbath plus annual festivals organized and gave meaning to the life of the Jews. It helped them to remember God's mercy and to share together in his goodness.
So what gives order and meaning to your life? How do you think about your year? For some of us, we mark time by certain holidays, such as birthdays, Thanksgiving Days, and Christmases. Others of us think in terms of the school year and summers. Still others structure our lives by annual calendars: the Gregorian calendar (January-December) or even the IRS calendar (April 15).
Because most Christians do not follow the ceremonial/sacrificial laws of Leviticus, we do not, as a rule, structure our time by the Jewish festivals. But we do celebrate Christian holidays which, though they are not established in Scripture, nevertheless help us to remember God's grace. In Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Savior, the Word of God made flesh. Easter focuses on the victory of God over sin and death through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. These days are, for many Christians, "official days for holy assembly," in which we gather for worship and feasting, not unlike what is described in Leviticus.
These days, more and more Christians have discovered the power of the so-called Christian calendar, which is also known as the liturgical year or the church year. In addition to Christmas and Easter, the Christian year includes: Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, Eastertide, Pentecost, and "ordinary time." Different traditions include other special days or seasons. The Eastern Orthodox year is distinctive in its timing, as well as its feasts and fasts. If all of this is new to you, I would encourage you to read a short series I have written called: Introduction to the Christian Year.
As I have grown in my faith, I have become more attentive to the seasons and holidays of the liturgical year. For me, this isn't a matter of legalism or formalism, but rather a way to experience God and his grace more deeply and variously. Right now, for example, we are in the season of Advent. As I remember the yearning of Israel for a savior, I am made more aware of just how much I need a Savior. Thus my yearning for the Lord increases, as will my joyful celebration of Christmas. I believe that there is freedom in Christ for us to acknowledge the Christian calendar in different ways. But, I would encourage all believers to consider how our experience of time—indeed, our experience of life—can be structured and enriched by intentional, regular, biblically focused celebrations of God's grace.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What gives order and meaning to your experience of time? How do you think about your year? Are there certain annual events or traditions that give significance and structure to your life? How might your life be enriched by intentional times and seasons of remembering God's grace?
PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for the way you give order and meaning to the lives of the Israelites. Your laws helped them to remember how you had reached out to save them and how you continued to bless and forgive them.
Lord, I need this too! I need to experience my life as a response to your grace. I thank you for the multitude of ways you make your grace known to me, including the Christian seasons and celebrations. Today, I thank you for the season of Advent, for a time to get in touch with just how much I need you and how much I long to know you face-to-face.
All praise be to you, God of time and history, God of grace and mercy, God of justice and love, God of solemnity and celebration. Amen.