“Long live King Jesus; up the revolution”

Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Jesus heralding the beginning of his glorious, all-conquering kingdom on this planet. What it’s become instead is a dumbed down, domesticated, touchy-feely, emotion-driven, mystical, self-indulgent soppiness where grown people wish each other a Merry Christmas as if the world is a wonderful place full of magic and joy. 

In reality the world is not full of magic and joy. At the present rate of climate change we’re on an irreversible trip to self-destruction, aided and abetted by the stupid customs and traditions of Christmas, in which we exchange mostly non recyclable gifts that end up at the local dump, we cut down perfectly formed trees by the billion for twelve days of twinkly lights on our Christmas trees, and we teach our children they are entitled to such nonsensical behaviour because it feels nice. 

And maybe it does feel nice roasting chestnuts on a flaming fire and watching little kids eyes light up on seeing all the presents they’ve got, but that’s not what Christmas is about. It was never meant to be merry, or to create happy family memories that warm the heart. Christmas in its original intent was an announcement about the arrival of a king whose kingdom would be taking over this world forever. It was the start of a revolution on an unprecedented scale, full of eternal promises and consequences. 

And it didn’t have its roots in a Christianized set of pagan customs either, that have sucked even mature Christians into what Christmas has become today. Christmas, the true Christmas that is, had its roots way back in the book of Isaiah and a prophecy about a child being born who was, in fact, God coming to this earth to rule it with the kind of justice and peace we long for but can never create ourselves.

And right now, at this very moment, he’s in the process of setting up his kingdom on this earth so that one day “all nations will stream to it” to be taught his ways – instead of the corruption and selfishness our world feeds on today. And he’ll make sure that no nation will ever again “take up sword” against another nation, and “no one will be trained for war anymore.” 

And if only we’d spend the time reading the story of Jesus’ birth, we’d learn that representatives from the most powerful empire on earth at the time came to Jesus from miles away to worship him as king, because they knew this is what he’d been born for. It wasn’t to wish him a Merry Christmas, or exchange gifts, or put up a Christmas tree in the stable, it was to scare the liver out of king Herod in their request to worship the new king of the world. 

They were the first major shot across the bow to all the reigning powers on earth that a new king had arrived, exactly as predicted by Isaiah – and on the exact date predicted by Daniel – and this new king had been given all the authority and power he needed to set up a kingdom that would “never be destroyed.” 

And roughly thirty years later, a flowing haired eater of locusts and honey suddenly appeared on the landscape yelling “I’m the voice predicted in Isaiah who’d be calling out, ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming,’” to confirm the arrival of this new king of the world. The revolution had begun. 

And the very next day, guess what happens? Jesus arrives on the scene and John the Baptizer hops up and down yelling, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”  

Them’s fighting words all right, aimed right at the heart of the political system ruling over the Jews at the time, because the head of the Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar, had taken that same title, “son of god” too. His father, Julius Caesar, had claimed he was a god, so his son naturally assumed the title, “son of god.” To call Jesus the “Son of God” too, then, was a second shot across the bow to the reigning powers that he was the one who had the right to that title, and no one else. The revolution was now truly on its way. 

Mark then confirmed all this at the very beginning of his book, describing the Christian message as “the gospel about Jesus Christ, Son of God,” exactly as predicted by John the Baptizer from the book of Isaiah. Same shot across the bows, and the same announcement that the revolution had begun. Thirteen verses later, Jesus himself announces, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”

The good news of what, though? It was the best news ever, that his kingdom would soon become the ruling kingdom on earth, and at last people would have a choice. They could dump all the ways of this world that had never solved anything and follow the ways of his world instead. And to give them a good idea of what the ways of his world were like, he demonstrated them for the next three and a half years, and they were summarized by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount. The revolution had begun, along with a clear manifesto of what it entailed. 

And that’s what we’re faced with as Christians when Christmas comes up again. It’s about joining the revolution of living the ways of Jesus’ kingdom now, so that one day we get the chance as Jesus’ partners to teach the whole world his ways. 

It’s not about roasting chestnuts, it’s about confronting the world with a whole different way of living and thinking that Jesus taught. It’s not about wishing people a Merry Christmas, it’s saying, “Long live King Jesus; up the revolution.”      

Is there an answer in Christmas to the world’s problems?

Christmas provides temporary relief to the world’s problems, where for a brief while we let the good part inside us have a chance to shine, but then we’re right back to another year of fighting traffic, more disasters, terrorist attacks and accidents, family health and financial problems, poor quality appliances breaking down, the car needing constant repairs, children’s needs becoming ever more expensive, problems with school bullies and insensitive neighbours – and on and on it goes.

Christmas in its traditional secular form, therefore, can at best only offer temporary relief, and for many people Christmas doesn’t even offer that. But there is a side to Christmas, that got Christmas started in the first place, that offers permanent relief. It was predicted by an angel, that with Christ’s birth a new era of peace would begin, and that was confirmed later by Jesus in John 14:27, when he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

Jesus said this to his disciples who were about to experience anything but peace. They would be scoffed at, bullied and killed, which in this world is a cause for much grief and heartache, as we see in bullied children who kill themselves. The world’s solution to such insulting behaviour, therefore, is to come out fighting, defend one’s national honour and personal dignity, and to hit back, like the immediate response from politicians to a terrorist attack.

But Jesus didn’t offer the peace of this world that comes with revenge, justice for victims, getting one’s own back, or the satisfaction of being vindicated. It didn’t come from seeing bullies and terrorists publicly humiliated or killed, either. Nor did it come from putting someone in his place, or outgunning someone in a debate or argument, or winning a court case, because all those things, just like Christmas, only offer temporary relief, and the hurts never really heal.

What Jesus offered by comparison was totally different. He’d learnt from a lifelong relationship with the Father that peace can only come from loving the Father and doing exactly what his Father commanded (John 14:31). Jesus, therefore, was the only one who knew the source of peace, the only human being who’d ever experienced this peace personally, and the only one who could make it real in our lives too, by making his home in us and living the peace he’s experienced in us (verse 23).

And those who believed it would experience it, and every Christmas be reminded of it too, that the answer to the world’s problems is the peace Jesus experiences that he now lives in us.

Christmas – the muddle and the magic

Maybe Christmas was a great idea when it was first invented, but today it’s a monumental muddle.

It’s a strange mix of ancient and modern, like finding Jesus in a nativity scene alongside Santa Claus in a Coca-Cola suit, and a sacred Christian holiday being celebrated in much the same manner as the heathen festival Christians pinched it from originally.

It’s an odd jumble of opposites, too. Giving increases for worthy causes, but so does spending on useless junk. ‘Tis the season for pleasing others, but also the biggest excuse all year for bloating oneself to bursting point. It tickles heart strings while straining purse strings; it keeps the economy growing while burying people in debt, and it catches you humming those familiar songs while wishing the “silly season” was over. And who is it really all about, Jesus or Santa, our kids or the child of God?

The sacred and the secular are so intertwined nowadays it’s a wonder Christians don’t separate themselves from Christmas all together. On the other hand, Christmas still magically transforms entire communities into nicer, kinder, gentler places for a season. It’s an amazing phenomenon seeing people with no interest in God suddenly acting all warm and fuzzy and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about a Christian concoction full of bizarre rituals dragging them out in huge numbers in the middle of winter every year. In a modern culture like ours it’s hard to explain.

Unless, that is, the prophecy in Isaiah 9:7 really did kick in when Jesus was born, because that would certainly explain it. “Of the increase of God’s kingdom and peace there is no end,” the prophecy states, and the thriving of Christmas is remarkable proof of it. Even with the politically correct brigade trying to bury Christmas in meaningless terms like a “festive season of giving,” Christmas as a Christian holiday keeps on happening and it still packs a punch in the peace and goodwill department. It can still melt the anger of hardened criminals, stop the bullets flying between deadly enemies, and for a moment or two it even unites Christians.

Christmas is a powerful influence in our world, and while it remains that way it offers just the hope we need that what began with Jesus is true, that peace really is on its way. It doesn’t seem possible the rest of the year, but at Christmas-time it does, because something happens in December that doesn’t happen at any other time. The atmosphere changes; a truce descends upon the land and we discover the pleasure all over again of giving, chatting with strangers, helping the unfortunate, resolving conflicts, and even going to church.

For a few brief moments every year the elements of peace are in place and we get a glimpse of what’s possible, of a better, kinder world, of God’s world not ours. It’s all still a monumental muddle, yes, but in amongst the muddle there’s a hint of magic, of something else going on that reaches beyond human invention, of God himself reassuring his weary children that peace and goodwill are not only possible, they’re guaranteed.

And without that little taste of magic, where would we be? What hope does our world offer otherwise to a single Mother up to her eyebrows in debt and despair, or to a man who hates his job, hates where he lives, hates what’s happening to his kids, hates getting older and fatter and knows he’s stuck in a rat hole ‘til he dies?

Well, there isn’t any hope, is there, either for them or for millions like them, living out their dull, boring, routine lives without much of anything to look forward to each day but more of the same.

But along comes Christmas again, and with it a ray of hope that this life isn’t all there is, and maybe something wonderful really did begin when Jesus was born. The evidence is there all right, of something incredible happening every year that ties in exactly with what God said would happen with the birth of his Son.

Muddle or magic, call it what you will, Christmas is still an amazing time of year. It’s not only a peek into what’s possible, it’s also a glimpse of another world in the making and of a God who is real and true to his word.

When Christ becomes central, not Christmas

Growing up as a child in England, Christmas was the highlight of my year. Out came the Advent calendar with its little windows to open each day, with some sort of picture, message or treat on offer. Out came the boxes of ageing decorations, followed by a sliced off fir for the Christmas tree and dangling all sorts of odds and ends from its branches.  

It was a tradition we followed year after year, always the same, and I never questioned why we did it, or what all the rituals meant. And even though I grew up in a Christian home and went to church every week as a child, none of what we did at Christmas meant anything more than an exciting, look-forward-to time of getting gifts and eating the best meal all year. 

We sang carols, and I remember vaguely of being something in a nativity play at school, but none of what we did ever made Jesus real or personal to me. And then I hit teenage and began to lose interest in Christmas. I even stomped out of a family Christmas dinner in a snit, because Christmas was all such a “put on” to me. We all had to pretend to be happier than usual, and be thankful for gifts we didn’t like, and decorate the tree with frilly nonsense, etc. 

So for all that tradition and growing up in church, Jesus meant little to nothing to me. I had no idea why Jesus was born or what difference it made. At age eighteen I gave up on Christmas all together, and never attempted to celebrate it with anyone for the next thirty-five years or more. I was glad of the rest at Christmas, and not having to join the frenzy of gift-giving, parent hopping, Christmas parties, and eating sugary junk. 

When grandchildren turned up I tried joining in with the typical festivities, but it all felt so empty. Gifts and wrapping paper were scattered all over the floor, food was gulped down in twenty minutes, and then in overfed stupor we gradually melted into a heap of sleepy bodies until it was time to go home. And that was Christmas, having taken up the best part of an entire month preparing for it, and in five hours or so it was all over, and then up early next day for more frenzied bargain shopping, or back to work.      

I yearned for something meaningful. And one day, about ten years ago, it came. It was in a song about Simeon and his reaction to seeing Mary carrying the eight day old Jesus into the temple. Simeon cried out in Luke 2:30-32, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel,” a quote from Isaiah 49:6. So this was a promise Simeon had looked forward to seeing fulfilled and here it was – in his mind – being fulfilled in that baby in Mary’s arms.

Questions raged in my mind. What was this “salvation” he saw in this tiny baby, for instance? And how could it be seen by Jews and Gentiles alike? And since I’m a Gentile too, can I see this salvation as well? Could it actually become real and personal to me too? 

Fortunately, Simeon came to my rescue because he’d also partly quoted from Isaiah 42:6-7, that “I (God) will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” And when Jesus later read this same promise from Isaiah 61:1-2 he made it clear that the ‘you’ in Isaiah 42 was him. The hope for Jew and Gentile alike, then, would be these promises being visibly answered in him.  

For Jews and Gentiles (like myself), therefore, these were three clear promises that must happen because of Jesus’ birth. The three promises mentioned were: 1) The blind will see, 2) Prisoners will be set free, and 3) Darkness will be turned to light. So did Jesus being born make those promises happen for the Jews, first of all?

Yes, they did. The Jews witnessed with their own eyes the healing of helplessly crippled people and madmen being released from their demons. A man who’d been blind from birth was healed too. The walls of his restricted world suddenly expanded. The darkness he’d only seen since birth was now filled with light – exactly what Isaiah and Simeon had said would happen. But did it happen to Gentiles too? And that part I really wanted to know, because I’m a Gentile. 

Well, in Acts 26:15-18, Jesus himself said he’d do the same for us Gentiles, when he recruited Paul and told him, “’I am Jesus….I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” Jesus himself now was promising the same three things to the Gentiles that were promised to the Jews: opening eyes, freeing us from evil, and turning darkness into light.   

So, what was I “blind” to that now I see? It’s that everything I need to know about God is in Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6). It’s not in Christmas; it’s in him. And what evil have I been freed from? It’s from traditions that teach nothing about Jesus, like most of what Christmas is about today. And what darkness has been turned into light for me? It’s been the dawning in my mind that if I was alone on a desert island without any Christmas celebration being possible I still have Jesus close to me and in me, and that’s all I need. 

Now I know the source of “life and godliness,” and the “divine nature” that makes it possible for me to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4). And it all began to happen for me when Christ became the highlight of my year. If only Christmas could make him the highlight too, then. 

Where do we see God’s glory in the church today?

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, we’re given the reason why God “chose us to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit,” and why he “called us through the gospel.” The reason given is “that we might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

It was Jesus’ expressed wish too that we “see (and share) his glory,” John 17:24. But not just see his glory, it’s also his wish in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we “reflect” his glory too, as we ourselves are “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” by that “sanctifying work of the Spirit.” 

We also see in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that the purpose of the “god of the age” is to “blind the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” But in the church, verse 6, God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”   

So Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory, enabling us to see it, and we in the church are the reflection of that same glory as the Spirit transforms us into Jesus’ likeness, so that others can see it.   

The obvious question then becomes, “But how does the Spirit enable the church to reflect God’s glory so that others can see it?” And that takes us back to 2 Thessalonians 2 and verse 15, that by the sanctifying work of the Spirit we in the church “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings that Jesus’ apostles passed on to us.” So we reflect God’s glory by the Spirit enabling us to stick like glue to the teachings of Jesus passed on to us through his apostles. We also have the “Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,” verse 16, “encouraging our hearts and strengthening us in every good deed and word,” verse 17. 

So not only are we sticking like glue to Jesus’ teachings, thanks to the Spirit, we are also displaying clear fruits of Jesus’ teachings in our every word and deed, thanks to Jesus and our Father keeping us encouraged and strengthened – which clearly we in the church need, because, verse 7, “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work,” whose aim is to “oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God” (verse 4).   

So there’s also a power at work that wants to hide and mess up “everything that is called God,” and replace God’s glory with his own. And the means by which he does it is to “unsettle and alarm” and “deceive” the church into “refusing to love the truth” and “not believing the truth” through counterfeit lies (verses 2 and 9-12). 

Is it any surprise, then, that there are times when the church does not reflect the glory of God very well? But at least we know the clear cause of it. Somehow our focus has been taken off the teachings of Jesus by other things that seem more important, or more exciting, like “all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2:9), or worse, verse 10, “every sort of evil” being pushed by the culture that creeps into the church too, like sexual abuse of children. The result of drifting away from Jesus’ teachings will be very visible too, therefore, but visibly reflecting Satan and his likeness (verse 9), not Jesus. 

But just as visible is the result of sticking like glue to Jesus’ teachings, and being transformed by that by the Holy Spirit into Jesus’ likeness. The result is stated clearly in Chapter One, verse 3, when Paul writes: “We thank God for you, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” These are the “miracles, signs and wonders” that visibly display the Holy Spirit at work in the church. They are trusting in Jesus and what he taught, and our love for each other is increasing. 

They’re the total opposite to feeling unsettled and alarmed caused by “refusing to love the truth” of Jesus’ teachings and ”not believing” in them, that the spirit of lawlessness creates. And we see that in churches today that are divided and splintered into opposing factions, where Jesus’ teachings don’t even enter the picture, and their love for each other is visibly decreasing, not increasing. 

“With this in mind,” then, Paul continues in verse 11, “we constantly pray for you, “that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

Faith in Jesus’ teachings releases God’s power in us so that every word and deed of ours fits those teachings, which is what God called us for in this age to properly reflect his glory. It’s also what Paul prayed for in verse 12, “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”

It’s clear, then, where we see the glory of God in the church today. It’s in churches, or individuals in churches, who are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Jesus’ likeness through having their noses thoroughly buried in Scripture – the clear, visible fruits of which will be trust in Jesus and his teachings and trust in him and the Father strengthening and encouraging us when we’re unsettled and alarmed. Our love for each other in the church is really growing too.

And that’s what makes God’s glory visible to others as well.  

 

“Today salvation has come to this house”

In Luke 19:1-9 we have a story about a tree, a sycamore fig tree to be precise, that in Palestine literally grows figs on its branches, unlike the sycamore tree in Europe and North America. The story behind this particular tree is tied in with Jesus travelling down to Jerusalem to die, which he knew was his Father’s will for him, and part of his journey meant a stop in Jericho because this too was on the Father’s itinerary for him, just as everything else in Jesus’ life on earth was.

It was totally intentional in the Father’s itinerary, therefore, that Jesus pass right by this sycamore fig tree in Jericho, because a little fat tax collector would be climbing it to get a glimpse ofJesus when he arrived. And fortunately for the tax collector the limbs of this type of tree spread outward very low down on the trunk so that even a child would find the tree easy to climb. 

I wouldn’t be surprised, then, to discover that God himself had planted this tree, or made sure someone planted it – and at this very spot too, close to where Jesus would be walking – just as he’d planned for Zacchaeus the tax-collector to climb it. And that’s because of the message he wanted to get across about Jesus, that explained the reason why Zacchaeus found himself wanting to get a look at Jesus, and why he got desperate enough to climb a tree when the crowd blocked him out, and being so short he couldn’t see over them.

It was then, to Zacchaeus’ immense surprise, but exactly according to the Father’s plan, that when Jesus arrived at the tree he stopped, looked up at Zacchaeus and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately: I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).  

The fact that Jesus knew Zacchaeus by name, and that he was in the tree, and that out of that entire crowd he selected a much-despised agent of the hated Romans, clearly means something worth taking note of here. But what?

Well, when Jesus arrives at Zacchaeus’ house, followed by a grumbling crowd who were also surprised that Jesus would allow himself to be “the guest of a ‘sinner’” (verse 7), he says to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9). 

And why was it so important to the Father that Jesus say that? “Because,” Jesus continues in verse 9, ”this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man,” verse 10, “came to seek and to save what was lost.”

As a Jew listening to that my mind would be reeling, I imagine, because Jesus had lumped this despicable ‘sinner’ in with them as being a “son of Abraham” too. To Jesus, however, Zacchaeus was no different to the rest of them, despite him choosing to work for the hated enemy.

It gets worse, though, because Jesus then says “the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost,” meaning, that although Zacchaeus was “a son of Abraham” he was lost and needed saving. Well, no Jew thought he was lost or needed saving, because as “Abraham’s descendants,” John 8:33, they thought they had it made as God’s children (verse 41).  

But here Jesus is hinting – in Zacchaeus being lost and in need of saving – that so were the rest of the Jews, and the only route to salvation was Jesus himself. Which is why Jesus announced at Zacchaeus’ house, “Today salvation has come to this house” meaning himself being the source of salvation for Zacchaeus, and therefore himself as the only source of salvation for the rest of the Jewish nation too. But to lump them in twice now with that traitor Zacchaeus, as both a child of Abraham and a lost sinner in need of salvation, must have shocked them to their roots. 

And for it to happen to a man who’d made himself rich at their expense, it must have been a bitter pill to swallow, but it certainly got their attention for Jesus to make his announcement that no matter what kind of person you were or what your ancestry was, salvation was possible through him.

But what kind of “salvation” was Jesus talking about? Well, that had become obvious in the remarkable change in Zacchaeus. The man really had been despicable, having deliberately chosen a job where he could make himself rich at his countrymen’s expense. He could overcharge for taxes owed and siphon off the extra for himself, and tax collectors were well-known for doing it. And Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector” too, so he was probably getting a slice out of all the other tax collectors’ profits as well.

But here was Zacchaeus up a tree looking for Jesus, and when Jesus called out to him he “welcomed Jesus gladly.” So something dramatic had changed in Zacchaeus that had zeroed his mind on Jesus. This dramatic change in him then included a total turnaround in his attitude to his fellow countrymen too, because he was ready to give half his wealth to the poor and pay back fourfold to anyone he’d knowingly cheated. 

It was clear evidence of what Jesus’ salvation did to a person. It gave them a love for God and love for neighbour, and in a person like Zacchaeus too, whose heart had been as cold as ice to both God and people. 

It made me realize, then, that if the same dramatic change has been happening in me that “salvation” has come to my house too. Somehow the Father who calls us orchestrates circumstances so that Jesus becomes hugely important to us too, enough for us, like Zacchaeus, to seek out Jesus no matter how embarrassing that makes us look, or what other people think of us. And then we find our attitude toward people changing too, where reconciling with people we’ve had difficulties with, and healing old wounds, becomes top priority. 

And wasn’t love for God and love for neighbour what God created humans to enjoy forever, that we so sadly “lost” back there in Genesis? 

Zacchaeus up that sycamore fig tree, therefore, tells us just how merciful our Father is toward us, and why he had Jesus say these words to Zacchaeus on his way to die in Jerusalem to make the salvation that Zacchaeus was experiencing available to the whole world, no matter who or what we are. 

Halloween: a trick or a treat for Christians? 

So is Halloween just another trick by the devil to get Christians all in a dither as to whether it’s evil or not, so we’re divided as Christians and at loggerheads with each other? Or is it a treat that could be used and enjoyed by Christians to meet neighbours and join them and their children in an evening of fun, leading to some great connections in the future? 

Well, if we’re worried about Halloween being evil, I can’t see Jesus being upset at it, because in Colossians 2:15 he “disarmed the powers and authorities, and he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Or as The Message phrases that verse, Jesus “stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.” 

He made a total mockery of evil, exposing it for the cartoon it had become. And isn’t that exactly what all those kids dressed up as ghosts and goblins are doing at Halloween too? They’re transforming the devil and ghosts and goblins into cartoonish figures we snicker at. They’re making a “public spectacle” of them too, as nothing to be scared of. 

But isn’t evil something to be taken seriously? Yes, when stupid, blinded humans tune in to the devil’s twisted thinking and actually practice it, thinking it’s right. But Halloween isn’t about terrorists killing innocent civilians, or corporate executives drunk on greed and power, or dictators filling they bank accounts while their people starve. Halloween is a celebration of Jesus’ victory over evil, that started us on the road to restoration and healing. 

That’s what Halloween meant on the Christian calendar too. October 31st was set aside as “All Hallows Eve,” an evening of hallowed, or sacred, preparation for All Saints’ Day on November 1st, in which saints present and past, known and unknown, are honoured. It’s a wonderful day of celebrating those made holy by Jesus’ victory over the devil, including those – like our parents, grandparents or great Christian teachers, etc. – who led us personally to becoming saints as well.

It’s also a day to remember the power of Jesus’ name. Just the mention of his name sent evil scuttling for cover, or demons begging him to leave them alone. Jesus broke the power of the devil and our fear of death (Hebrews 2:4), so that we’d never have that cloud hanging over everything we do. It means that none of our well-intentioned, faithful labour is now in vain. It’s all a step along the way to us becoming labourers with Jesus to restore this planet and fulfill God’s plan for all creation. And if we are scared at any time, all we need to do is call on Jesus’ name for peace and comfort. 

We can also heed the advice in James 4:7-8 to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” In other words, if there is some evil being promoted at Halloween, like horror movies and attempts by others to “spook us out,” have nothing to do with them. I remember as a teenager we’d try to scare each other with ghost stories, or later on as adults, dabble with things like Ouija Boards and seances, or seek advice from people claiming they could contact our dead relatives, or try to figure out if premonitions that came true were from God or the devil. And I used to wonder if these things were truly instruments of the devil or flirting with the occult. James, by comparison, simply says, “Resist.” Have nothing to do with them. In other words, there’s no need to figure them out. Just ignore them and say to myself – or to others – “I’m not interested.”  

Should children, therefore, resist such things too? Of course, but they’re not what children are interested in at Halloween in the first place. They’re not seeking contact with evil or flirting with evil. When they visit a so-called “haunted house” they’re not giving it any religious significance. It’s simply good for a laugh with friends, just like it is when they visit a “haunted house” or any other make-believe world at Disneyland. Admittedly it’s an odd way to create fun, but to a child it’s like going to a fantasy movie with all sorts of weird, cartoonish characters with superhuman powers, or reading a children’s story with magic in it.

Children aren’t scared by these fantasy creatures, nor do they become open doors to the occult. They’re just mindless entertainment, much like so many of the movies and video games we watch and play as adults too. They’re just a bit of fun and relaxation. 

So when someone asked me how I thought Jesus would react to children coming to his door at Halloween seeking treats, it made me think he’d view it as a bit of fun and entertainment too. He might compliment a child with an especially imaginative costume, or invite the kids to answer a riddle to get an extra piece of candy. Kids loved coming to Jesus, because they could see he loved them. 

None of this means we take evil lightly, of course, because evil is real. And for those people who’ve experienced evil in the raw Halloween is an objectionable and stupid custom, and they want absolutely nothing to do with it. Which is where Paul’s comments in Romans 14 kick in, that we don’t judge or condemn each other when we have differences of opinion on touchy subjects. Rather, we should try to seek peace between us, which we can by putting ourselves in others’ shoes to understand where they’re coming from and why they feel so uncomfortable at Halloween time. 

Adults need to feel safe in what they think and do too, and a church that takes that into account is an attractive place to be. A church can also lessen the evil side of Halloween by coming up with fun events for children and their parents in a church atmosphere of fun and entertainment that’s even better than being out on a cold night and maybe having to deal with some truly weird people. 

So, is Halloween a trick or a treat for Christians? It can be either one, depending on where we’re at in our Christian journey, and we respect that in each other. And maybe we don’t celebrate Halloween for the sake of others, just like we would’t drink alcohol in the presence of a struggling alcoholic. 

Halloween can certainly get us thinking, then, as to how we can be as wise as serpents in this world, and as harmless as doves in our relationships with our fellow Christians, and, of course, with our children who think Halloween – fortunately or unfortunately – is just great.